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Maronite Patriarch riles French, American government leaders with stand on Syria

Catholic World News - September 29, 2011

Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai has roused concerns among French policy-makers, and signs of dissatisfaction in Washington, with public statements on the political crisis in Syria.

During a visit to France, the Maronite Patriarch warned that the collapse of the Syrian regime could lead to civil war, and ultimately to the establishment of a militant Islamic regime. The French foreign ministry said it was "surprised and disappointed" by the Catholic prelate's comments, apparently interpreting them as a sign of support for the embattled Syrian President Assad.

Shortly after Patriarch Rai returned from France, his office announced that a planned visit to Washington, DC, where he was tentatively scheduled to meet with President Obama, had been postponed--apparently because of the American reaction to the prelate's comments.

Maronite officials insist that the Patriarch did not intend to support Assad, but merely to emphasize the dangers posed to religious minorities if the "Arab Spring" uprisings bring a new impulse to militant Islam.

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