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Russian court deports five doomsday sect members to Belarus

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PENZA, April 17 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian court has ruled that five doomsday sect members from Belarus be deported for violating Russia's visa regime, the court chairman said on Thursday.

The five former cave dwellers, who emerged from their underground cave in the Penza Region, central Russia, together with other members of the Orthodox Christian sect earlier this month, have also been ordered to pay a fine, Lyudmila Levina said.

The cultists were taken to a regional center from the house of the sect's leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, on Thursday morning. Officials from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry also arrived in Penza pledging to help the former cave dwellers to return to Belarus.

Although Belarusians, like other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), are not required to obtain visas to travel to Russia, they still have to possess a valid passport and be registered with the migration service.

The religious followers of this extremist Orthodox sect are known to have burnt their passports before going underground as they "contain the number of the Beast."

Twenty-four members of the group, which went underground in November to wait for the end of the world, which they say will come in May or June, left their dugout on April 1 after most of the shelter's roof collapsed following heavy rain.

The remaining cultists, who have been described as "the most radical" by Russian authorities, resumed talks with authorities on Monday, but did not indicate when they intend to leave their hillside dugout.

One of the sect's members now above ground told reporters last week that, "During our stay, two people died. They are buried there. One of them died of cancer and the other after fasting too intensely."

Local authorities have not confirmed the deaths.

The sect's leader, Kuznetsov, 43, was admitted to hospital earlier this month after an apparent suicide attempt. Russian media initially reported that Kuznetsov, who did not join his followers underground, had been beaten by the emerging sect members after taking part in negotiations to persuade them to leave their shelter. He had been held in an asylum in Penza about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow, since November.

Despite one member of the sect claiming that the group is an offshoot of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the sect has generally been considered part of a wave of extreme Russian Orthodoxy in Russia and some former Soviet republics.

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