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Georgian Priest Suspected Of Planning To Kill 'High-Ranking Cleric'

Patriarch Ilia II has been beset by health problems in recent years (file photo)

TBILISI -- Authorities in Tbilisi have arrested an archpriest of the Georgian Orthodox Church on suspicion of planning to "murder a high-ranking cleric," shaking the South Caucasus country's dominant church as its 84-year-old leader underwent medical treatment in Germany.

Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze said on February 13 that the head of the Georgian Patriarchate's Property Management Service, Archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze, had been arrested on February 10 as he boarded a plane to Berlin, where Patriarch Ilia II was awaiting a gallbladder operation.

Shotadze said cyanide was found in Mamaladze's luggage.

He refused to name Mamaladze's alleged target, but said that the chief of the Special Service for State Guards, Anzor Chubinidze, had been sent to Berlin "to protect the security of the Georgian patriarch.”

Ilia, 84, has led the Church since 1977 and wields significant influence on social and political life in the predominantly Orthodox Christian former Soviet republic of 4.9 million.

The patriarch, who has suffered health problems in recent years, underwent successful gallbladder surgery in Berlin on February 13, church officials said.

With reporting by, AP, and AFP