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Russians protest handing St. Isaac's to Orthodox Church

Associated Press logo Associated Press 3/18/2017
People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. The poster reads: 'This is our city. Hands off!'. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) © The Associated Press People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. The poster reads: 'This is our city. Hands off!'. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — About 4,000 people have demonstrated in St. Petersburg to protest the handover of the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the control of the Russian Orthodox Church.

People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) © The Associated Press People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

The cathedral was taken over by the state during Soviet times and run as a museum. After the 1991 Soviet collapse it continued in that role, although it occasionally held religious services as well.

A man displays a poster reading 'Putin out!' during a protest rally against decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) © The Associated Press A man displays a poster reading 'Putin out!' during a protest rally against decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Many critics of the move also express concern about the growing power of Russia's Orthodox Church, which is a leader of moves toward social conservatism.

People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) © The Associated Press People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Natalya Popel, a participant in Saturday's demonstration, says "I want my grandchildren to visit St. Isaac's Cathedral as a museum but not as a place with a certain religious ideology."

People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. The poster reads: 'Hands off the St. Isaac's museum!'. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) © The Associated Press People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. The poster reads: 'Hands off the St. Isaac's museum!'. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Prominent cultural figures, including the director of the Hermitage Museum, have criticized the decision.

People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. The poster depicting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin reads: 'I want!'. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) © The Associated Press People rally to protest against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. The poster depicting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin reads: 'I want!'. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) A man looks through a cardboard cutout poster during a protest rally against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) © The Associated Press A man looks through a cardboard cutout poster during a protest rally against the decision of the city authorities to hand over the city's landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, March 18, 2017. About four thousand people gathered for a protest against the controversial return of the renowned cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
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