Nationalist Turks clash with police in protest at international Orthodox patriarchate

Posted: Friday, September 10, 2004

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) Police clashed with hundreds of rock-throwing nationalist Turks at a protest outside the seat of the spiritual leader of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians.

The protesters burned an effigy of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whom far-right groups accuse of working against Turkish interests.

The demonstration last Sunday called on the Ecumenical Patriarchate to reopen a gate that has remained shut for more than 180 years out of respect for Patriarch Gregory V. The patriarch had been hanged there after he was accused of conspiring against the Ottoman Empire.

Nationalists say the patriarchate's refusal to reopen the gate, the main entrance to the complex, indicates ''anti-Turkish'' sentiment, and they dubbed the entrance ''the gate of hatred.'' The patriarchate says the gate was welded shut and cannot be reopened.

The protest came as the patriarchate seeks to reopen the Orthodox seminary that Turkish authorities closed in 1971. The seminary trained generations of church leaders, including Bartholomew, and is considered crucial for preparation of future leaders for the patriarchate.

Members of Turkey's government have expressed support for the proposal, which nationalists strongly oppose. The government is seeking Turkish membership in the European Union, which has made expanding religious freedoms one condition for starting membership talks.

The patriarchate condemned the ''senseless violence'' at the complex and said the protests were provoked by ''people intent on blocking Turkey's E.U. path.''

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