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Russian Authorities Back Down On Plans To Take Over Children's Cancer Hospital

Hospital No. 31 in St. Petersburg is considered one of the country's best pediatric cancer clinics.
Hospital No. 31 in St. Petersburg is considered one of the country's best pediatric cancer clinics.
Russian authorities have backed down on a controversial plan to shut down a renowned hospital in St. Petersburg and hand it over for the exclusive use of top judges.

Viktor Khrekov, a spokesman for the Office for Presidential Affairs, said that authorities were no longer planning to convert the hospital, famous for its treatment of children with cancer, into a facility for judges from the Supreme Court and the Higher Arbitration Court.

Both courts are set to relocate to St. Petersburg from Moscow.

Khrekov said the Kremlin had taken note of the objections from local lawmakers and residents.

Plans to shut down the hospital had drawn public outrage and sparked angry protests.

A protest rally had been planned on January 23 and was expected to gather thousands of demonstrators.

Hospital No. 31, located in a prized St. Petersburg neighborhood and once reserved for the Communist Party elite, is currently open to the public.

It is the only facility in northwestern Russia treating malignant tumors in children and is considered one of the country's best pediatric cancer clinics.

'Old Soviet Practice'

Under the plan, all its patients, including children, would have been moved to other hospitals.

More than 100,000 people had signed petitions to save the hospital, including a number of respected public figures, such as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Zhores Alferov and actress Chulpan Khamatova.

St. Petersburg's human rights ombudsman, Aleksandr Shishlov, had condemned the "old Soviet practice of special services and privileges."

Russia's Orthodox Church had also spoken out on the issue, saying it would be "morally unacceptable" to shut down the hospital if there were "even the slightest threat" that it would harm sick children.

A spokesman for St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko confirmed that plans to convert the hospital have been abandoned.

"The position of the governor of St. Petersburg on Hospital No. 31 is extremely clear -- the hospital was, is, and will remain a municipal hospital," the spokesman wrote on Twitter.

The move to close the hospital to the public drew particular criticism since the facility was recently equipped with valuable medical equipment for the treatment of cancer victims.

The bulk of the $4 million equipment was donated by the Federation Fund charity, which received the money from a 2010 fund-raising gala concert during which President Vladimir Putin famously sang "Blueberry Hill" in front of a crowd of foreign celebrities.

With reporting by Interfax and ITAR-TASS
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