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Suspects in priest murder charged in Russia's Urals

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MOSCOW, January 13 (RIA Novosti) - Prosecutors in a Urals city have charged two local residents with killing a priest on Orthodox Christmas night, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office said on its Web site Saturday.

The body of Father Oleg Stupichkin was found in the Sts. Peter and Paul Church in the Alapayevsk district after a fire in the early hours of January 7. Twenty-two icons, including those painted in the 18th century, were stolen from the church.

The murder and robbery charges were brought against Sergei Dalyatshin and Roman Sukhachov, local unemployed residents, both with a previous crime record, the Web site said. The suspects are believed to have set the church on fire to conceal their crime.

"The Alapayevsk City Prosecutor's Office opened a criminal investigation into the crime. Law enforcement agencies arrested Davlyatshin and Sukhachov the same day," prosecutors said. "Several icons were seized from them during a search, while the others were found near the crime scene."

"The murder of any person is always a horrible tragedy. The murder of a priest during Christmas holidays is shocking. It makes every person's heart weep," Vladimir Vigilyansky, head of the Moscow Patriarchy's press office, said.

Attacks on priests have become more frequent in Russia recently.

Father Andrei Nikolayev died together with his three young children in a Central Russian village early December after unidentified attackers doused the house with gasoline and set fire to it.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas Day according to the old Julian calendar on January 7.

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