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1000 protest in Moscow against Ukraine papal visit

Russian Orthodox leaders backed 1000 people protesting in Moscow's Pushkin Square on Saturday against John Paul II's forthcoming visit to Ukraine.

According to the press spokesman of the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate, the protest was a sign of the opposition to the papal trip to Ukraine and to Catholic expansion in Ukrainian soil, considered the prerogative of the Russian patriarchate.

The Pope is due to travel next month to Ukraine, where five million Eastern-rite Catholics recognise the supremacy of the Vatican. He has been invited by the Ukrainian government.

Moscow protesters distributed leaflets directing Orthodox Christians to "impede the Pope's visit to Ukraine". Various Russian Parliamentary deputies, including extreme right Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zherenovski, joined the protest.

On Friday, the heads of the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches criticised the Pope's plan to visit Ukraine, saying he should have sought the permission of Orthodox clergy before agreeing to go.

Russian Patriarch Alexy II and visiting Greek Archbishop Christodoulos also repeated lukewarm views of the Pope's historic apology for wrongs committed against Orthodox believers by Catholics, which he made while recently visiting Greece. The Greek population in general warmly welcomed the Pope's apology.