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Zealot monks prepare for siege after violent clashes.

Black-robed Orthodox monks traded blows yesterday in the Mount Athos monastic community in northern Greece, as a bitter fight between Church authorities and a rebel monastery turned violent.

A spokesman for the rebel Esphigmenou Monastery said workmen and rival monks tried to demolish the community's offices at Karyes, the administrative centre of the mediaeval sanctuary - from which women and female animals are banned.

"They used pickaxes, spades and crowbars to try to break down the door," Father Neophytos said.

"They were trying to throw us out."

A police spokesman said nobody was injured in the clashes. Eight monks live in the offices.

In a dispute spanning three decades, the zealot monks staunchly oppose efforts to improve relations between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican.

The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has declared the 100 monks in the 1,000-year-old Esphigmenou Monastery to be schismatics, and ordered them out of the walled compound.

Defying the Istanbul-based Patriarch - and an eviction order from Greece's highest administrative court - the Esphigmenou monks have settled into the complex and prepared for a long siege.

But Neophytos said the monastery is being blockaded and supplies are dwindling, while monks rely on mobile phones for communication as the landline was cut a month ago.

"We have provisions for quite some time yet. But they won't let us bring in new medical supplies, which would be a problem if somebody falls ill," Neophytos said.

Esphigmenou is one of 20 monasteries on the autonomous Mount Athos peninsula, some 373 miles northeast of Athens. The sanctuary is popular with Christian pilgrims - including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who visited in August
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 25, 2005
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