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Metropolitan Kirill of Yekaterinburg (file photo)

YEKATERINBURG -- The Russian Orthodox Church says it has rejected "the right" to build a cathedral at a disputed site in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

In a statement released on June 16, Metropolitan Kirill of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye said that in an "atmosphere of total lies and deceit" building the church on the site would still be potential cause for discord.

Metropolitan Kirill said he does not want to "give the devil that opportunity."

The statement follows a rare public outcry over the project to build a church in a popular park in Russia's fourth-largest city, which has prompted President Vladimir Putin to urge all sides to find a comprise solution.

On May 22, officials in the Sverdlovsk region scrapped plans to build the church in the park, citing a poll showing that 74 percent of respondents thought locating the new church there was a poor choice.

The authorities arrested about 100 demonstrators during several evenings of protests in Yekaterinburg last month, and sentenced dozens of them to jail terms of between two and 15 days.

In his statement, Metropolitan Kirill said that opponents to the project claimed not to oppose building a church but in practice showed "hatred for the existence of God in their lives."

He said the church would be built soon but not on the disputed site or any other green space, park, or public space.

Kirill said that the Church hopes this is the last time it will make a concession, saying: "We have no cheeks left to turn."

State-Approved Rally Held In Moscow In Support Of Free Media
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MOSCOW -- The Russian Interior Ministry says nearly 1,600 people have turned out for an authorized rally in Moscow in support of free media in Russia, which critics have described as a "fake" event.

Other sources put the number of participants in the June 16 demonstration on Sakharov Avenue at between 300 and 600.

The rally was prompted by a recent action against investigative journalist Ivan Golunov who had been arrested on a drug charge that supporters said was fabricated.

Golunov was released from house arrest on June 11 after the country's interior minister announced that criminal charges against him would be dropped. The move came after an unauthorized solidarity rally for the reporter saw hundreds of people arrested.

Yekaterina Vinokurova, the editor of the state-supported RT television station, Pavel Gusev, Chairman of the Moscow Union of Journalists, and Vladimir Solovyev, Chairman of the Union of Journalists of Russia organized the rally.

Journalists called for the gathering under the slogan "Justice for All."

Golunov himself did not attend.

The state-run TASS news agency quoted Solovyev as saying on June 15 that he had invited Golunov to the rally to "hear from him how he sees the further development of civil society, what should we do to avoid our compatriots finding themselves in this situation."

"Many reporters are currently in prison under the same article that they attempted to charge Ivan with," he added.

As a reporter for the Latvian-based Russian online news site Meduza, Golunov had gained renown for investigating corruption among top Moscow city officials and others.

Meduza’s editors and others said Golunov’s arrest may have been specifically due to his reporting.

Golunov said in court that he had received threats in connection with his investigation into the funeral business in Moscow.

On June 12, several hundred people marched through central Moscow in an unsanctioned protest aimed at maintaining pressure on authorities over Golunov's case.

OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors police crackdowns against demonstrations in Russia, said that more than 500 demonstrators were detained.

Organizers of the demonstration had said they had failed to get approval from the city’s authorities for the event.

One of them, Ilya Azar, said authorities were using the permitted march on June 16 to "take over" the protesters' agenda.

Azar called the June 16 rally "fake" while calling on citizens not to take part in it.

With reporting by dpa and TASS

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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