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Russia: Patriarch Reiterates Support For Religion Bill

Vilnius, 25 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's Orthodox Patriarch Alexey today continued his public disagreement with President Boris Yeltsin over a controversial religion bill.

On a visit to Vilnius, Alexey dismissed Yeltsin's claim that the bill would have violated the rights of minority religious believers. Yeltsin vetoed the measure earlier this week.

Alexey said the bill would only affect what he called "fake missionaries and destructive forces" which he said have "flooded" Russia and its neighbors.

Earlier today in his weekly nationwide radio address, Yeltsin defended his veto, saying "a democratic state cannot encroach upon the interests of minorities for whatever seemingly noble motives." He said that "certain clauses" in the law encroached on constitutional rights and freedoms. However, Yeltsin also said that a bill on religions is needed to protect Russia's "moral and spiritual health."

The bill as passed by the Federation Council and State Duma would have established Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism as traditional religions.