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Greece says church leader falsely blamed Jews

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Greek government accused the leader of the nation's Orthodox church of falsely blaming Jews for a decision to eliminate a religion entry from state identity cards.

Archbishop Christodoulos, leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, last week told the Athens daily To Vima, "Do you know who is behind the issue of identity cards? The Jews."

But government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said Jews had nothing to do with a government decision last year to remove the entry. The government said the purpose was to follow European Union trends on privacy protection and civil rights.

"It is beyond reality to claim that someone imposed this decision," Reppas said. "I believe that such an allegation, except that it is an absolute lie, creates problems for the country's international image."

The church has waged an all-out campaign to rescind the decision, which they see as a first step toward a possible separation of church and state. Church leaders have staged rallies and claim to have gathered about 2.5 million signatures in a campaign to rescind the decision.

Greece's small Jewish community took offense at Christodoulos' statement and said they were one of many religious groups, including Muslims and Roman Catholics, that applauded the government decision. More than 97 percent of the native-born population is baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church, the official state religion.

Greece's Jewish community in thought to number less that 5,000 people. More that 90 percent of the 80,000-strong community was killed in Nazi death camps.