Russian President Turns to Church Leaders

( [email protected] ) Oct 01, 2004 10:50 AM EDT

During a meeting with Russia's religious leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of a surge in hate crimes in response to the recent terrorist attacks and urged church leaders to help diffuse tensions.

"It is clear that letting criminals push us around by stirring up anti-terrorist anger among people of different faiths and ethnicities is absolutely inadmissible," Putin told members of the presidential Council on Interaction with Religious Associations on Wednesday. "In their criminal intentions, extremists actively exploit ethnic and religious intolerance."

According to the Moscow Times, Putin's remarks came as fears mounted of a possible breakout in violence between ethnic Ossetians and Ingush in the North Caucasus. The tragic hostage crisis that led to the deaths of over 330 people in the North Ossetian town of Beslan last month fanned the embers of the old grudge between the two ethnic groups, the news agency reported.

In urging religious leaders to help defuse tensions, Putin made a veiled reference to the dormant Ingush-Ossetian conflict.

"Your words and actions are extremely important in the current situation, when the criminals are trying to direct anger at the people of another faith and ethnicity," he said.

"I would like to stress that a major aim of the unprecedented series of terrorist attacks ... was to drive a wedge between the Muslim world and representatives of other faiths."

The meeting was attended by Orthodox, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Catholic leaders.