St Paul's cathedral official quits over London protests

27th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

The chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral resigned on Thursday saying he feared that moves to evict anti-capitalist protesters camped outside the London landmark could spark violence.

Canon Giles Fraser, the third most senior official at the cathedral in the heart of the financial district, quit amid a row with top church officials and London authorities over the demonstrations.

St Paul's later announced that it would re-open for prayers on Friday, a week after it closed to visitors saying that the "Occupy London Stock Exchange" encampment in the churchyard posed a health risk.

"It is with great regret and sadness that I have handed in my notice at St Paul's Cathedral," Fraser said in a posting on Twitter.

It was Fraser who initially allowed protesters to camp on the cathedral grounds on October 15.

Around 200 protesters pitched their tents there after a demonstration in London, which was part of a series of rallies around the world inspired by the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, some of which turned violent.

Fraser told the Evening Standard newspaper after his resignation: "The church should not put its name to any course of action that may lead to violence against the protesters.

"I can't in conscience go down the road on which they are embarked."

The dean of St Paul's, Graeme Knowles, said he was "very sorry" about the resignation of Fraser, a former philosophy lecturer who regularly appears on BBC radio talking about social and religious issues.

"We are obviously disappointed that he is not able to continue his work with chapter during these challenging days," Knowles said.

But it was Knowles who made the decision to close down St Paul's on Friday -- the first time it had shut its doors since the Blitz in 1940 when its iconic dome served as a symbol of defiance to Londoners.

Knowles has said that officials are considering all options in response to the protest, including legal action.

The London protest movement said it was "deeply moved" to hear that Fraser had resigned, adding that the thoughts of its members were with him.

"He ensured that St Paul's could be a sanctuary for us and that no violence could take place against peaceful protesters with a legitimate cause," it said in a statement on its website.

St Paul's will now reopen on Friday in time for the prayers at 1130 GMT, a cathedral spokeswoman said, in a service which will be a "simple celebration of the reopening of the cathedral".

The protesters camped outside will be among those prayed for, the spokeswoman said. The famed dome and galleries of the cathedral will however remain closed "for the time being".

The City of London Corporation, the local authority for the Square Mile financial district, is to seek legal advice on Friday about whether to launch court action to evict the protesters.

The resignation of the St Paul's churchman comes two days after clashes between US police and demonstrators in Oakland, California, left an Iraq war veteran critically injured.

Officers fired tear gas and bean bags to disperse the anti-Wall Street demonstrators.

© 2011 AFP

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