Greek PM claims breakthrough in tangled church-state relations

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Church head Archbishop Hieronymos arrive for their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens. (AP Photo)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Greek PM claims breakthrough in tangled church-state relations

  • Alexis Tsipras: We stand on the verge of framework for a deal... resolving issues going back many decades
  • The agreement is to end the long-running designation of clerics as civil servants

ATHENS: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a tentative breakthrough in talks to soften ties between Greece and its powerful Orthodox Church, a decades-old debate affecting valuable church lands and clerical salaries.
“We stand on the verge of framework for a deal... resolving issues going back many decades,” Tsipras said late Tuesday after a meeting with Archbishop Ieronymos, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece.
The agreement is to end the long-running designation of clerics as civil servants, in theory freeing up some 10,000 jobs on the state payroll.
The state will continue to pay church salaries under a different account, but under the proposed deal it stands to acquire an equal share in valuable church lands whose ownership has been a matter of dispute since the 1950s.
A joint state-church fund will also be created to develop this property, whose full value is still being evaluated.
After the announcement drew criticism from some senior Greek clerics on Wednesday, Ieronymos said that the proposals would not be applied without the consent of the church hierarchy.
Tsipras’ political opponents have lambasted the suggestion that 10,000 state jobs will be freed up, at a time when his party is struggling in opinion polls a year before national elections.
The move also comes ahead of a Tsipras initiative to overhaul the Greek constitution.
Government plans to revise the constitution’s Article 3, which states that Orthodoxy is the country’s “dominant” religion — to the consternation of rights groups — have unnerved church circles.
A leftist and self-avowed atheist, Tsipras had announced his intention in 2016 to make the Greek state “religion-neutral.”
One of the most powerful institutions in the country with influence in politics and justice, the Orthodox Church lays claim to extensive holdings around the country, many of which cannot be developed owing to court disputes.
Church officials have consistently bemoaned the level of tax levied on clerical real estate, pointing to church donations in the 19th century for the creation of schools, public squares and other state infrastructure during the early history of the modern Greek state.
Earlier this week a Greek monastery lost a court case in which it argued that church property on lease should be exempted from land tax.


Heavy fighting flares up between Taliban, Daesh for Afghan territory

Updated 1 min 41 sec ago
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Heavy fighting flares up between Taliban, Daesh for Afghan territory

  • Daesh fighters have attacked villages under Taliban control
  • The Afghan affiliate of Daesh has made some inroads into other areas, in the north in particular
KABUL: Afghan Taliban insurgents are battling fighters loyal to Daesh over control of territory in eastern Afghanistan in some of the heaviest clashes over the past year between the rival militants, officials said on Wednesday.
The fighting erupted on Monday in two districts of the eastern Afghan border province of Nangarhar, when Daesh fighters attacked villages under Taliban control.
“Islamic State fighters have captured six villages in Khogyani and Shirzad districts but the fighting has not stopped,” said Sohrab Qaderi, a member Nangarhar’s the provincial council.
About 500 families had fled from the fighting, he said.
Casualty figures were not available.
A spokesman for the Taliban, who control more territory than at any point since they were ousted from power nearly 18 years ago, was not available for comment.
Daesh fighters first appeared in eastern Afghanistan in around 2014 and have battled the Taliban as well as government and foreign forces.
The Afghan affiliate of Daesh, sometimes known as Islamic State Khorasan (Islamic State-K), after an old name for the region that includes Afghanistan, has made some inroads into other areas, in the north in particular.
It has also established a reputation for unusual cruelty, even by the standards of the Afghan conflict, and has been behind some of the deadliest attacks in urban centers.
While Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan, has been a Daesh stronghold, some villages in Khogyani and Shirzad districts have been controlled by the Taliban.
Fleeing villagers said they had to run for their lives.
“I could only rescue my family. We had to leave everything,” said Shawkat, 36, a resident of Markikhel village in Shirzad district who sought safety in a neighboring village.
Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor said, authorities would help the displaced villagers with food and medicine.
In August, more than 150 Daesh fighters surrendered to the Afghan security forces after they were defeated by the Taliban in the northwestern province of Jawzjan.
The US military estimates there are about 2,000 Daesh fighters in Afghanistan.
Many are former Taliban. There is scant evidence of direct links with Daesh in the Middle East, where the group has lost territory it once held in Syria and Iraq to Western-backed forces.