Proposals to build a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Yekaterinburg have caused outrage among locals, with thousands taking to the streets to protest the plans over the past few days.
On Thursday, local mayor Alexander Vysokinskiy said the project had been suspended, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin said the will of the people would be considered.
“If people are against it, that opinion must be respected,” Putin said. “Steps need to be taken from both sides to resolve this issue from the point of view of people who live there.”
Putin suggested there should be “a survey, and the minority should concede to the majority.
“A cathedral must help unite people, not cause a rift,” he said.
Strict punishment for public dissent
Unsanctioned protests have been held for the past four days in the Ural Mountains city, some 1,700 kilometers (about 1,000 miles) east of Moscow. Several dozen protesters have been detained, with 21 of them serving short jail terms ranging from two days to 10 days for disobeying police.
“We need to bring the process into a civilized framework … we don’t need clashes and arrests,” said Vysokinskiy, as demonstrators screamed for his resignation.
Protesters are against the plans of two local tycoons to build the cathedral in a central park, meant to replace one destroyed by the Soviet authorities in 1930. Residents say the massive project would infringe on rare green space in Russia’s fourth-largest city, which many people use as a recreational area.
The protests reflect tensions over the growing authority of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Putin has appeared to back an increased role for the Church in Russia, helping to stoke nationalist sentiments.
Earlier Thursday, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke out against the “provocations” and “false information” in relation to the cathedral project and praised the actions of law enforcement.
“It is very likely that there were some people in Yekaterinburg who provoked the protesters… and that quite naturally drew the appropriate response from the security forces,” Peskov said.
jsi/cmk (AP, AFP)