…Russian Orthodox Church warns of protests in Ukraine***
Nine people died after a boat filled with migrants sank off the western coast of Turkey and another 25 were missing, the Turkish coast guard said on Wednesday.
It was not clear where the boat was headed or where it left from.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants crossed the sea channel from Turkey to Greek territory in 2015 before Ankara curbed the flow under a deal it struck with the EU.
The coast guard said the boat sank off the coast of Turkey’s Izmir province after water began leaking shortly after its departure.
Search and rescue operations for the missing migrants were continuing, a coast guard statement said.
It said there were initially around 35 migrants on the boat in total.
Turkey became one of the main launch points for more than a million migrants taking the sea route to EU territory in 2015, many fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
The influx of migrants was drastically curtailed by a 2016 accord between Ankara and the EU, after hundreds died crossing to Greek islands a few miles off the Turkish shore.
Mediterranean arrivals to the bloc, including refugees making the longer and more perilous crossing from North Africa to Italy, totaled 172,301 in 2017, down from 362,753 in 2016 and 1,015,078 in 2015, according to UN data.
In the meantime, a high-ranking Russian Orthodox cleric on Wednesday warned that protests would erupt in Ukraine if the country’s Orthodox Church is granted independence from Moscow.
The remarks came as the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, considered the spiritual leader of global Orthodoxy, was expected to decide on granting independence to Ukraine’s Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian Church is currently split into three bodies, the largest of which is technically overseen by the Patriarch of Moscow.
Hilarion Alfeyev, a bishop who heads the diplomacy department of the Moscow Patriarchy, predicted that protests would break out after a decision in favour of an autocephaly — or independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
“Of course, people will take to streets and protect their sacred sites,” Hilarion was quoted by Russian agencies as saying at a religious congress in Kazakhstan.
Hilarion said the decision would lead to Ukrainian authorities physically taking over Orthodox churches and monasteries currently used by clerics under the Moscow Patriarchate.
These include some of Ukraine’s most recognisable and popular landmarks, such as the Kievo-Pechersk Lavra in capital Kiev.
“We are seeing already that Orthodox churches in Ukraine are being overthrown and the worshippers are coming to their defence,” he said.
The move by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to support a unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy under a new autocephaly is viewed by Moscow as an encroachment on its territory.
Last month the Russian Orthodox Church cut ties with its Istanbul-based rival and dropped Bartholomew from its prayers.
Some clerics heading parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine have called on parishioners to rally in defence of the churches.
The Metropolitan of Pochayiv recently said in an official statement posted on the website of Ukraine’s Pochayiv Lavra, a major Orthodox monastery in western Ukraine, that supporters should “be ready to defend” the monastery.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod, its decision-making body presided by Bartholomew, is currently meeting in Istanbul, and is expected to make a decision on Ukraine.
Additional report from AFP