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Greece: Women Protest in Monk Sanctuary

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

By COSTAS KANTOURIS, Associated Press Writer

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THESSALONIKI, Greece — 

A group of female protesters locked in a land dispute with the Greek Orthodox Church defied a 1,000-year-old ban and entered the all-male Mount Athos monastic sanctuary in northern Greece, a police official said Wednesday.

A police spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity that the small group of nearby villagers, including at least six women, climbed over a fence Tuesday and briefly entered the self-governing peninsula, where women are strictly forbidden.

Parliament member Litsa Amanatidou Paschalidou was among the women who entered the sanctuary. She called it a "purely symbolic act," which was meant to send a message to the church to "pursue policies which serve the public and not its financial interest."

The protesters, who say the monks are making illegal claims on their property, broke away from a rally of more than 400 people and evaded a police cordon, entering Athos grounds.

No arrests were made, but the public prosecution service in nearby Thessaloniki requested details of the incident from police, officials from the service said.

Monks at 20 monasteries on the Athos peninsula have imposed a strict ban on women for nearly 1,000 years. The ban is upheld by Greece's constitution, and violations are punishable by up to a year in prison. In the past, single female visitors are rumored to have entered the enclave disguised as men.

Resident groups in the northern Halkidiki holiday resort area are at odds with several Athos monasteries over the ownership of land outside the sanctuary area.

"If they are to take away our homes, then it might be better for us to go to prison, as we won't have anywhere else to stay," said Kyriaki Malama, spokeswoman for the Halkidiki citizens' movement.

"We are fed up and angry about this land seizure and the monasteries' demands. It was an effort to persuade authorities to take action," she told The Associated Press.

Paschalidou, the lawmaker, said the Athos land claims were based on titles dating back to the Middle Ages and the period of Ottoman Turkish rule. Greece has not completed a national land register, and land disputes are common.

"I supported the women who wanted to make this symbolic gesture," she said. "The problem with the land has existed for years, not just here but all over Greece."

Officials from the Greek Orthodox Church could not be reached for comment.

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