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Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Criticizes Saakashvili For War

Georgian PatriarchPatriarch Iliya II
Georgian PatriarchPatriarch Iliya II
TBILISI -- Georgian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Iliya II has criticized President Mihkeil Saakashvili for his actions in South Ossetia in August 2008 that led to a military conflict with Russia, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports.

Independent television station Maestro showed Patriarch Iliya at a meeting with teachers on October 16 in which he said it was possible to avoid military conflict with Russia over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia last year.

He said "it will never do to bump your head against the wall without being able to find a door in it; the captain of a ship must lead his vessel, being able to maneuver and escape reefs."

The Georgian opposition welcomed Iliya's statement, while the leaders of the ruling United National Movement party expressed their displeasure with it.

Pro-government politicians say that since Patriarch Iliya criticized Saakashvili he should also suggest what the president should have done to avoid the conflict.

Iliya's comments mark the first time recent Georgian history when the Orthodox Church and the government find themselves at odds.

Georgian and Russian forces fought a five-day war last year that led to South Ossetia declaring its independence, which was recognized by Moscow.