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Two Russian Cities Back Off Construction Plans After Yekaterinburg Protests

Riot police confront protesters during a rally against the construction of a church in central Yekaterinburg on May 14.

Officials in two Russian cities have suspended or scrapped plans to construct religious buildings after a project to build a church in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg triggered several days of protests.

Vladimir Yelistratov, the mayor of Chelyabinsk, also in the Urals, said on May 20 that a plan to construct an Orthodox Christian chapel in a park inside the compound of the South Urals State University had been halted.

"Yekaterinburg's experience must be studied," Yelistratov said, adding that the chapel would not be constructed before local residents' opinions were thoroughly examined.

The announcement comes days after the mayor of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Sergei Yeryomin, refused to allow the construction of an Orthodox church in a park.

In a statement, the Krasnoyarsk city administration explained the decision by saying that the construction of the proposed building could cause deforestation of the area.

The moves by the authorities of Chelyabinsk and Krasnoyarsk came after thousands of people demonstrated for four evenings in Yekaterinburg last week against plans to erect an Orthodox church in a popular central park.

The protests withered after local authorities said that construction work on the proposed new church was suspended and that an opinion poll would be held before a final decision on the matter.

During the protest campaign, police arrested almost 100 protesters, 33 of whom were sentenced to jail terms between two and 15 days.

Yekaterinburg is Russia's fourth-largest city.

With reporting by Pchela