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Turkish Nationalists Gatecrash Orthodox Christian Celebration

ISTANBUL (AFP) -- Turkish nationalists chanting slogans and waving the flag of an extreme right-wing party Thursday tried to disrupt a Greek Orthodox religious ceremony here called the benediction of the waters of the Bosporus, eyewitnesses said.

As part of a tradition dating back to Byzantine times, a crucifix is thrown into the waters and young divers plunge in, competing to recover it.

Some 60 nationalists interrupted the proceedings waving flags of the National Action Party (MHP) and chanting: "This is Turkey here, like it or leave it."

Hundreds of members of Istanbul's Greek Orthodox community attended the traditional ceremony held every January 6, the date of the Orthodox Christmas, on the banks of the stretch of water known as the Golden Horn, which cuts into the western side of the Bosporus dividing the city's European and Asian sides.

Police held the intruders back, and they later made an equally unsuccessful attempt in fishing boats to invade the section of water where the ceremony took place.

Istanbul has a Greek Orthodox community several thousand strong.

The Istanbul patriarchate is a regular target of demonstrations organised by Turkish nationalist movements. A home-made epxlosive device was thrown into the Patriarchate gardens last October, but caused only minor damage.


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