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St. Petersburg defends transfer of landmark to Orthodox

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Authorities in Russia's second-largest city are defending a controversial decision to give a city landmark cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The museum community in St. Petersburg and city residents were rattled by the governor's announcement this week that he was transferring St. Isaac's Cathedral to the church. An online petition against that decision had tens of thousands of signatures by Thursday.

Mikhail Mokretsov, deputy governor of Russia's former imperial capital, told reporters Thursday that the city will make sure that tourists get unfettered access to the site. He said the city will retain its ownership of the cathedral while the church will get operational rights.

St. Isaac's Cathedral has been important museum since Russia's 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Some museum experts are concerned the Orthodox Church will neglect its exhibits.

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