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Crimean archbishop accuses Russia of trying to tarnish his name

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Simferopol (AFP)

The head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Moscow-annexed Crimea said on Monday he had been released by police, accusing Russian authorities of seeking to tarnish his reputation.

Archbishop Kliment was taken off a bus in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on Sunday as he was preparing to travel to southern Russia to visit a Ukrainian who is being tried on terrorism charges.

Kliment said he had been reported for allegedly stealing religious items from his own church and swearing at the bus station.

"This is absolutely absurd: they are accusing a priest of stealing church ware and indecency," the 49-year-old Father Kliment told AFP.

He said he was reported for allegedly swearing by an apparently homeless man who swore himself. "It was rather funny."

Archbishop Kliment, who was released late Sunday, accused the Russian authorities of seeking to tarnish his good name and prevent him from attending the trial of Ukrainian Pavlo Hryb.

"It was revenge of sorts because as a priest, I try to visit all Ukrainian political prisoners and I don't make a secret of my civic stance."

He also suggested that authorities wanted to prevent him from seeing the 24 Ukrainian sailors who were captured last year and are currently held in Russia.

Kliment said most of the sailors had requested a meeting with him.

His detention came after a historic religious split between Kiev and Moscow which was formalised last month.

Ukraine's Orthodox Church won independence after Moscow annexed Crimea and supported insurgents in the east of the ex-Soviet country in 2014.

The priest's attorneys said they had not received any proof from the police showing he would not face criminal or administrative charges.

"The matter has not been put to rest yet," lawyer Emil Kurbedinov told AFP.

Kliment said last month that Crimean authorities were set to revoke a lease on his church, the Cathedral of Saint Vladimir and Saint Olga, because he failed to register the parish in Russia.

As a Ukraine-aligned priest, he cannot do this, because Kiev considers the peninsula temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine's foreign ministry voiced concern over Kliment's detention.

Since the Ukrainian church gained independence, Moscow and Kiev have repeatedly accused each other of harassing clergy and parishes.

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