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Demolition of Unfinished Church Stirs Controversy
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 18 May.'07 / 14:37

Local authorities in the Khelvachauri district of Adjara demolished a half-constructed Orthodox church overnight on May 18.

Officials from the Orthodox Church said that the local authorities had told them that construction, which began four months ago, was “illegal.”
 
Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church Illia II has already condemned the authorities’ action as “a very depressing fact.”

“It should not have happened,” he added.

Archbishop of Batumi Dimitri Shiolashvili said on May 18 that the head of the Adjaran Autonomous Republic’s government, Levan Varshalomidze, had asked him to stop construction several days ago.

“He [Varshalomidze] told me that the president [Mikheil Saakashvili] wanted to construct something – I do not know exactly what, I guess some kind of amusement center – on that very same mountain. I asked him why he hadn't told the president that construction of the church was underway on that site; the answer was that they wouldn't dare tell him. Several days later I contacted Varshalomidze and told him that it was impossible to stop construction; I could not have explained to the parish why we should stop construction of the church,” Shiolashvili said.

“It is insulting what has happened and it is an insult for the entire parish,” he added.
 
The incident has political implications as most opposition parties are expected to use it to attack the authorities.

The Orthodox Church is one of the most influential institutions in Georgia with the highest – 80% – confidence approval rate among the population.

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