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Russian Orthodox Church Seeks Restitution Of St. Petersburg Cathedral

The Russian Orthodox Church's bid to secure the restitution of the landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg is creating a controversy.

The church has wielded increasing clout in Russia and has successfully won restitution cases involving many historic churches since the Soviet collapse, but it is facing significant opposition in St. Petersburg, where activists are pushing for a referendum on the takeover.

St. Isaac's, built over 40 years from 1818 to 1858, is one of the world's biggest cathedrals.Erected under the orders of Tsar Alexander I, it survived the Bolshevik revolution mostly unscathed while other historic churches were demolished.

It is the third most-visited cultural site in St. Petersburg and has served as a museum, with the church using it only periodically for services.

Museum director Nikolai Burov warns that returning the cathedral to the control of the Russian Orthodox Church could impede tourist access and slow down restoration work-- charges denied by the church.

"Tourists will have similar access to it as they do now, except that the entrance will be free of charge," church spokeswoman Natalya Rodomanova said on July 31. "St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome belongs to the Catholic Church, doesn't hurt the tourist flow."

City cultural chief Maxim Rezni insisted the cathedral "should not belong to only one organization, even if it is a very powerful one."

Based on reporting by AP and TASS