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Salvation Army faces closing doors

Salvation Army
The Salvation Army provides meals to the elderly and homeless as part of its work in Russia  

By CNN's Steve Harrigan

MOSCOW, Russia -- The Salvation Army may be forced to close its Moscow doors after failing to receive status as an official city religious organisation.

In a move the group's leader said is baffling, the 136-year old Christian service group will lose its legal rights to rent property and hire employees.

Army leader Col. Kenneth Braille said: "This is Gogol. This is Kafka. There is no explanation. The words that are used don't mean anything."

The Army, which is known for its humanitarian efforts toward the needy and for its Christian ministry, is considered a subversive military organisation by Moscow officials.

The Russian Orthodox Church has also accused the Salvation Army of trying to buy souls, but denies putting pressure on city officials to get rid of the competitor.

Moscow Justice Ministry Vladimir Zhbankov said: "To call yourself a charity and a church at the same time, you can't do it. We treat each category separately. Some countries have a law that allows this combination, but our law wasn't written that way."

The legal battle has dragged on for more than two years.

Braille said,"You face a lot of hurdles. You've got to get an official to put a stamp on some document. You have to get another official to put another stamp on the same subject. It's always difficult to do the simplest things here."

Zhbankov does not think of the Army, which has operations in more than 100 countries, as a charitable organisation.

He said: "You've got to understand Russians. If you give someone a piece of bread that doesn't mean we're going to clap for you. All it means is you have extra money, not that you're kind."

The Army has operations in the Russian cities of St. Petersburg, Vyborg, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, and Petrozavodsk, in addition to Moscow.

A court ruling is expected next month.

• The Salvation Army- Russia
• The Salvation Army
• The Russian Federation

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