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Videos Mocking Georgian Patriarch Stir Controversy

Patriarch Ilia II

Patriarch Ilia II

TBILISI -- Several video clips mocking the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, have triggered a wave of condemnation in Georgia, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports.

The clips, circulating on the Internet for several days now, were also shown by Georgian television.

Many in Georgia connect the appearance of the clips with Ilia's recent statements criticizing President Mikheil Saakashvili for his role in the August 2008 conflict with Russia over Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Ilia's comments last week marked the first time in recent Georgian history that the Orthodox Church and the government found themselves at odds.

A leading analyst at the influential Liberty Institute think tank, Tea Tutberidze, who shared the clips with her friends via Facebook, told RFE/RL she is sorry if she offended other people's religious sentiments, but defended her right to freedom of expression.