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.
Kommersant said extracts from the letter were read out at a meeting on Thursday by Alexander Kibovsky, head of the federal agency for the protection of cultural sites, Rosokhrankultura.
"The president gave us strict orders to ensure the unwavering observance of Russia's international commitments under the UNESCO convention," Kibovsky said.
Putin, like Medvedev a native of St Petersburg, has voiced support for the tower. Before running for election as president, Medvedev worked as Gazprom's board chairman.
Putin has not commented on the project in recent months and other officials have expressed growing doubts about the project following the warnings from UNESCO.
Dubai's Arabtec Holding won the contract to build the first stage of the tower in April 2008, and planned to start construction last year 2009.
Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Louise Ireland