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    * GEORGIA * PRESIDENT * EXTREMISM *

    GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAAKASHVILI SPEAKS FOR TOLERANCE

    Tbilisi, March 12 - RIA Novosti. Strengthening the Orthodox church and not allowing extremism and dissension in the church is one of the most important tasks of the President, said President Mikhail Saakashvili while commenting the arrest of Vassili Mkalavishvili, a former priest who was excommunicated from the Georgian Orthodox church.

    "My first duty as the President and an Orthodox Christian is strengthening the Orthodox religion in Georgia and not allowing discord and extremism into the church", Mr. Saakashvili said.

    "It's the state that is to defend Georgia from foreign influence and extremism, not a local radical. It's not written in any book that true Christians should beat up people with crosses", the President stressed.

    Vassili Mkalavishvili, a former priest who declared himself "a fighter for the Orthodox religion" is notorious for his intolerant attitude towards non-traditional religions. On Friday he was arrested and brought to a prison of the Law Enforcement Department of the Georgian Ministry of Justice.

    The police was in search of Mr. Mkalavishvili since mid-2003. A criminal case against him was opened after Mr. Mkalavishvili and his supporters burned religious literature from Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists and other non-traditional Georgian religions.

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