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Priest says social, economic conditions worsening in Macedonia
    A Macedonian priest warned of worsening social and economic conditions in his country, following the mid-March launch of an ethnic Albanian rebellion.
    However, he added that the Catholic Church enjoyed "good relations" with other religious communities and was ready to act as a mediator.
    "Our church is already serving as a bridge," said Fr Antun Siramotic, director of Macedonia's Caritas organization, the local church's charitable agency.
    "We are helping the poor and marginalized from all social groups, and we have no conflict with Orthodox and Muslims. Thanks to this closeness to each side, we are well positioned to foster unity," he said.
    The priest was speaking as the Macedonian government claimed to have recaptured several Albanian-held villages on the northwestern border, including the main Albanian National Liberation Army base at Kale.
    In an interview with Catholic News Service this week, Fr Siramotic said the International Red Cross had taken responsibility for an estimated 35,000 refugees from Tetovo, allowing Caritas to continue "regular work" among poor and unemployed Macedonians.
    "Current conditions aren't as serious as when refugees were fleeing Kosovo," Fr Siramotic said. "But we still need all possible support to do our work here. Unemployment is widespread and social needs enormous, right down to food and other basic items."