January 10, 2008 / 4:59 PM / 10 years ago

Coca-Cola pulls "blasphemous" ad

<p>Employees of Coca-Cola (Japan) Company show new (R) and old Coca-Cola cans in Tokyo January 22, 2007. Coca-Cola's main Russian bottling distributor has removed religious images from its drinks refrigerators after a group of Russian Orthodox believers accused it of blasphemy, a spokeswoman for the firm said on Thursday.Kim Kyung-Hoon</p>

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Coca-Cola's main Russian bottling distributor has removed religious images from its drinks refrigerators after a group of Russian Orthodox believers accused it of blasphemy, a spokeswoman for the firm said on Thursday.

Local people in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, 400 km (250 miles) from Moscow, complained to the prosecutor's office last month about pictures of an orthodox cross and onion-shaped church domes on the outdoor refrigerators.

At the time, Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co. said it would not drop the marketing campaign and there had been no negative reaction in other Russian cities where similar images were used on the sides of the refrigerators.

Russia's tolerance towards Western influences has lessened, with the Kremlin's political rhetoric notably hostile to the United States, the birthplace of Coca-Cola.

"I would assure people that we used these images to promote Russian culture and not to offend anybody's feelings," the spokeswoman said on Thursday, confirming the company's decision.

"This incident in Nizhny Novgorod is regrettable."

She said it would take some time to remove the offending images from hundreds of outdoor sales refrigerators.

"We are strictly adhering to our principles of ethical marketing, which means we are taking into consideration local community demands. We took the decision to remove the image of the church."

A similar campaign has passed off without incident in the Russian cities of St Petersburg, Moscow and Ufa, she said.

Local prosecutors last month said around 440 people had backed the formal complaint in Nizhny Novgorod objecting to religious images inside a picture of a large Coke bottle on the side of the refrigerators.

Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co is the world's second-largest bottler of Coca-Cola drinks. Coca Cola's representative office in Moscow declined comment and said it was a matter for Coca-Cola Hellenic.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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