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Belarus: Troops Demolish Church

Minsk, 2 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Belarusian Pen Center and British religious-rights monitors say Belarusian troops last night demolished an Autocephalous Orthodox church in the village of Pahranichny near Hrodna on the border with Poland. The newly built church had been due to be consecrated today. But last night, the village was surrounded by troops in camouflage uniforms, who blocked off all roads and bulldozed the church.

Belarusian authorities have repeatedly refused to register the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church branding it as a "non-existent religious group." The church has some 70 parishes in Belarus.

A British NGO, the Keston Institute, which monitors religious rights issues, says the demolition is the first case it knows of in any of the former Soviet republics outside Central Asia where a place of worship has been deliberately destroyed to prevent religious activity taking place.