Russian Orthodox Church denies plans to create 'private army':Spkm

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Moscow, Nov 22 (UNI) Russian Orthodox Church has denied media reports that it was planning to create its ''own private army'' to help maintain order on the streets.

''The Church is not setting up a private army and would never attempt to do so. It is nonsense. The Russian armed forces already consist of 80 per cent Orthodox believers,'' Dmitry Smirnov, a cleric in charge of the Moscow Patriarchate's military relations department, said today.

Mr Smirnov also denied rumours that the Orthodox Church had held talks with the Russian Interior Ministry on the issue.

''It could be a private public initiative put forward by local parishes. If they want to patrol the streets - let them do it. If they want to sweep the streets, even better,'' he told reporters.

Recently Russian media reported that the Church had proposed setting up Orthodox vigilante teams to help police patrol the streets and fight crime in Russian cities.

Russian human rights activists immediately criticised the initiative saying that these vigilante teams would mean that police are incapable of maintaining order and keeping criminals off the streets.

Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Eastern Orthodox Churches in the world and has seen a resurgence in activity and vitality since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Up to 90 per cent of ethnic Russians identify themselves as Russian Orthodox, although the identification is sometimes more of a cultural nature rather than a religious one.

UNI XC RJ RN1634

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