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30 August, 2001
A highly anticipated meeting between President Kostis Stephanopoulos and Archbishop Christodoulos, held over the latter's request for a referendum on the contentious "ID issue", lasted for 45 minutes on Wednesday, with the presidency immediately issuing a written statement afterwards.
The president of the Republic (Stephanopoulos) touched on the ways with which popular rule is expressed, including the holding of a referendum and the procedures envisioned for such by the Constitution and the state's laws.
"Based on those (laws), the prerequisites for holding such a referendum on the issue of identification cards do not exist ... and all have the obligation to adhere to the rules of law, while the collection of signatures outside the margins of the stated legal procedure cannot possibly reverse the Constitution's provisions."
Exiting the presidential mansion, Christodoulos, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, termed his meeting with Stephanopoulos as "good", while in response to press questions over the president's stance, he said: "He had his own views".
Christodoulos, who was accompanied by a small delegation of other high-ranking clerics, said he briefed Stephanopoulos over the Church's initiative to collect signatures for a referendum because "we believe in the great prestige of the president to solve this matter".
The outspoken Greek Church prelate also said he asked Stephanopoulos to intervene in order for dialogue to commence on the holding of a referendum. The Church steadfastly wants a referendum to decide whether citizens may optionally list their religious preference on police-issued ID cards.
The Church of Greece prelate dramatically raised the stakes on Tuesday in the more than yearlong "ID issue" souring of Church-state relations by demanding a referendum or new legislation.
In a press conference at the Holy Synod's headquarters in down-town Athens, Christodoulos announced that a nation-wide petition drive calling for just such a referendum garnered 3,008,901 signatures.
In a swift reply, however, the government cautioned that the number of signatures would not affect the government's policy on the divisive matter.
Regarding Christodoulos' statements on Tuesday, a government spokesman reiterated that the state has made its final decision on the matter.
In June, the Council of State (CoS), Greece's highest administrative court, upheld the exclusion of religious affiliation from new IDs -- effectively ruling out an optional listing as well. The court ruled that citizens' religious preferences fall under the heading of personal and confidential information.
In response to Christodoulos' comments on Wednesday as well as to later remarks by main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis, government spokesman Dimitris Reppas countered that any initiative regarding police-issued IDs would, in fact, be a "Constitutional anomaly".
He again referred to the CoS decision over the issue, which also points to the unconstitutionality of allowing the optional listing of one's religious preference on the document.
Asked during his regular press briefing about the Archbishop's reference to "a Christian Greek state", Reppas said Greece is internationally recognized as the Republic of Greece, whereas if the former label was accepted the country would cease being a democracy, but instead, turn into a "theocratic regime, which has no relation to the state mandated by the Constitution or law".
Source: Athens News Agency