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More Than 20 People Jailed Over Yekaterinburg Church Protest

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Demonstrators wave their phones as they gather in front of a newly built fence blocked by police during a protest against plans to construct a church in a park in Yekaterinburg on May 15.

YEKATERINBURG, Russia -- More than 20 men and women have been sentenced to several days in jail for taking part in an unsanctioned protest in the city of Yekaterinburg.

Thousands of demonstrators have rallied in the Urals city over the past three days to protest against the local authorities' decision to build a new Russian Orthodox church on the site of a popular park.

The Verkh-Iset district court said on May 16 that 21 people who had been detained two days earlier were sentenced to jail terms between two and 10 days for violating public order and regulations on public gatherings.

The court said that 33 protesters were also detained during the latest demonstration on the evening of May 15.

However, OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors police crackdowns in Russia against demonstrations, put the figure at about 70.

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In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on May 16 rejected reports suggesting that the church would be only part of a major complex including high-rise apartments and businesses to be unveiled in 2023.

"The information about the church's being a part of a bigger construction plan and other buildings and centers are scheduled to be raised there is not true," Peskov told reporters.

Meanwhile, more than 74,000 people have signed a Change.org petition against the construction of the church, which critics say would occupy one of the few remaining green spaces in the city, Russia's fourth-largest.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and Matthew Luxmoore in Yekaterinburg
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