Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered for a third day straight day to protest over a proposal to build a new Russian Orthodox church on the site of a popular park in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.
Local activists reject the plan, saying it would destroy one of the few green public spaces in the Urals city — Russia’s fourth largest — some 1,700 kilometers east of Moscow.
On May 14, some 2,000 residents attended the demonstration, and reports say police arrested more than 29 people after clashes with protesters in the park.
Several hundred people gathered again on May 15 in the park where hundreds of riot police were also deployed.
The protests began on May 13 when thousands of people gathered near a fence erected around a section of the park and formed a human chain around it following a call on social media to gather for a “stroll” on the banks of the nearby river.
City authorities had granted permission to church officials to build a replica of a cathedral that had been demolished in 1930 by Soviet leaders, after the Russian Orthodox Church had said it needed new churches to replace those destroyed during the communist area.
The construction is due to be completed in 2023 to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of Yekaterinburg.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov criticized the protesters on May 15 for what he called “unauthorized gatherings” as well as for pulling down fencing around the construction site.
On the first day of protests, demonstrators toppled the fence but were confronted by security guards hired by Russia’s largest copper-producing company, which has offered financial support for the project, as well as mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters apparently linked to the copper firm who were brought in to protect the site.
Among the fighters was Ivan Shtyrkov, nicknamed the Ural Hulk — a professional MMA fighter.
The demonstrations in Yekaterinburg are the latest example of a series of localized protests sparked by local outrage over various municipal initiatives.
Residents of a Moscow region town last year had a series of violent clashes with police over a proposed new landfill to house trash and garbage from Moscow itself.
A similar protest was staged near the northern city of Arkhangelsk in February, where residents fought another proposal to have Moscow garbage transported to a local landfill.
Yekaterinburg has also shown a streak of political independence in the past.
Yevgeny Roizman resigned as city mayor in 2018 in protest at changes to the city charter that abolished the direct election of the mayor.