SOCHI, RUSSIA: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday made the unusual move of calling for opposition voices to be heard in a row that has seen protesters clash with police over a planned new cathedral.
Thousands of people in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg have protested this week against Orthodox Church plans to recreate a pre-Soviet cathedral in a popular central park.
“If people are against it, that opinion must be respected,“ Putin said during a forum in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
He suggested there should be “a survey, and the minority should concede to the majority.”
Over his almost two decades in power, Putin has brooked little dissent, overseeing crackdowns on public protest and the opposition.
“Steps need to be taken from both sides to resolve this issue from the point of view of people who live there,“ he said.
Dozens of people have been arrested over the clashes at the construction site in Yekaterinburg, some 1,000 miles (1,700km) east of Moscow.
Local authorities have backed the project, and the oligarch head of one of Russia’s largest copper producers has also offered financial support.
“Usually, people ask for a cathedral to be built,“ Putin said.
“Cathedrals should unite, not divide people,“ he added.
The row has exposed tensions over the growing authority of the Orthodox Church in Russia.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov had earlier decried “provocations” and “false information” in relation to the cathedral, praising the actions of law enforcement in the dispute. — AFP