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LONDON (Reuters) - The Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral resigned on Thursday after a row among church and local authorities over whether to try to evict a 200-tent protest camp occupying the square outside.
Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser had made clear his sympathy with the aims of the anti-capitalist protest camp and asked police to leave the cathedral steps early in the occupation. He said on Thursday he had gone with "great sadness."
Religious commentators said his move reflected differences in official attitudes towards the camp, which forced the cathedral to close its doors for the first time since World War Two.
St Paul's had said it was been losing 20,000 pounds a day since the camp was set up 12 days ago to protest against the nearby London Stock Exchange. It was closed on health and safety grounds but is due to reopen on Friday.
On Wednesday, the Dean Graeme Knowles reiterated "our basic belief in the right to protest as well as requesting that those people living in the tents now leave the site peacefully."
A statement on the cathedral's website said it was continuing to take legal advice on a range of options including court action.
The Corporation of London, the local authority in the City financial district, is to hold a special meeting on Friday to discuss whether to take legal action to clear roads around the camp.
A senior cleric in the City said: "The whole idea is a cathedral should be collegiate in its approach to things. Now one guesses from this that the cathedral have decided to take the approach of supporting the City in removing the camp, and that is why he (Fraser) has resigned."
Fraser, a former vicar of Putney in southwest London who has a high media profile with a regular slot on BBC radio, had taken up the St Paul's post in 2009.
"The Christian gospel is profoundly committed to the needs of the poor and the dispossessed. Financial justice is a gospel imperative," he said at the weekend.
Fraser announced his decision on Twitter. "It is with great regret and sadness that I have handed in my notice at St Paul's Cathedral," he wrote.
The statement on the cathedral's website said: "We are obviously disappointed that (Fraser) is not able to continue to his work ... during these challenging days."
Protester Ronan McNern said he was personally saddened by the news.
"This issue is obviously going right to the heart not only of the cathedral but also the church itself," he said. "With this we can see who the cathedral management are aligning themselves with - big business and politicians who have failed to regulate for the financial crisis," he told Reuters.
The senior City cleric said there was a sense Fraser "had not really grasped what the City is about."
"He had already been unreasonably critical of people (working in the financial sector) in the City."
Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, a group with which Fraser has links, said:
"Put under pressure he has held his own integrity as a Christian, and I think he is upholding Christian values and the teaching of Jesus with far more integrity than the dean and chapter (of St Paul's). I am very proud of him."
Editing by Andrew Roche