Kremlin chief supports U.N. call to halt Gazprom tower

Fri May 21, 2010 7:38am EDT
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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev supports the U.N. cultural agency's bid to halt construction of a glass-and-steel skyscraper among the baroque mansions of St Petersburg's historic center, a leading newspaper said on Friday.

The 403-meter (1,322-foot) tower, set to house state-run gas giant Gazprom's offices by 2016, has caused an outcry among residents of St Petersburg and opposition parties.

Weighing into the debate for the first time, Medvedev called for officials to note UNESCO's call for the building to be halted or scaled back, Kommersant newspaper reported.

Supporters, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, say the $3 billion Okhta Center project will help revive the economy of the former imperial capital on Russia's western border.

But UNESCO has warned it might exclude St Petersburg from its list of world heritage sites if the tower is built, as it would dominate the canals and baroque houses of the city founded by Czar Peter the Great in 1703 as Russia's window on Europe.

Kommersant on Friday quoted a letter from Kremlin advisor Sergei Prikhodko to St Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko and other officials which said the president wanted officials to take note of UNESCO's position.

"He (Medvedev) took particular note of the UNESCO decision, which calls for a halt to all work on the building in Saint Petersburg of the Okhta Center and consider alternatives in terms of its height," Kommersant quoted the letter as saying.

Medvedev noted "the importance of these recommendations to maintain a constructive dialogue with UNESCO and to prevent harm to Russia's reputation," the letter said. The comments were also carried by Russia's main news agencies.

Medvedev's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said she had no immediate comment on the letter.   Continued...