Russian police detained several dozen people in the early hours on Thursday at a rally protesting plans to build a cathedral in a popular park in Russia’s fourth-largest city.
Thousands protested in Yekaterinburg late Wednesday for the third consecutive day, and riot police were dispatched to the city center park where two local tycoons are planning to build a new cathedral.
Russian news agencies quoted local court officials as saying that 33 people were detained and are expected to face charges of illegal gathering. OVD-Info, a group that monitors civil activist arrests, says it logged 70 detentions.
Opponents say that the building would take away rare green and recreational space in this city of 1.5 million people.
Riot police largely stayed on the sidelines at the Wednesday protest, plucking out protesters one by one from the crowd.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday told reporters that he thinks a use of force there is justified “if there are provocations.” He said he saw such provocations at the protest Wednesday.
The rare protest, two time zones away from the capital and ignited by authorities’ apparent disconnect from local needs, resonated far beyond Yekaterinburg.
The mayor of Krasnoyarsk, a major city in Siberia hundreds of miles away, ditched plans to build a similarly big cathedral in the city center, citing lack of green spaces. In Nizhny Novgorod, a city on the Volga River, several people came out on the streets with banners in support of Yekaterinburg’s park defenders.
Russian website The Bell reported on Wednesday that the Yekaterinburg cathedral is part of a larger development project including the construction of a business center and a hotel nearby. It cited publicly available documents submitted for public discussion.
Peskov on Thursday refuted the reports, saying that he has spoken to the developer and that there are no such plans.