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    Russian cultural watchdog faces the ax - paper

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    Russia's cultural watchdog, Rosokhrankultura, which opposes the construction of a 403-meter tower in the historic center of St. Petersburg, may be scrapped, a Russian business daily said on Wednesday.

    Russia's cultural watchdog, Rosokhrankultura, which opposes the construction of a 403-meter tower in the historic center of St. Petersburg, may be scrapped, a Russian business daily said on Wednesday.

    Rosokhrankultura, a unit of the Russian Culture Ministry, is the only organization in Russia that monitors the observance of laws on the protection of cultural heritage.

    Kommersant said Putin ordered Russian Culture Minister Alexander Avdeev to prepare a bill to transfer Rosokhrankultura's functions to the Culture Ministry.

    Avdeev earlier sent a letter to Putin, asking him to transfer Rookhrankultura's functions to the Culture Ministry, citing a need to strengthen the ministry's structure.

    The Russian government said the issue had been discussed but refused to comment on the outcome, saying no final decisions had been made.

    The move can only be finalized by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who established Rosokhrankultura in 2004, the paper said.

    Plans by Russian energy giant Gazprom to build the Okhta Business Center in downtown St. Petersburg, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, have outraged local residents and public activists. Many believe the construction will distort the city's low skyline.

    The UNESCO World Heritage Committee discussed the construction of the tower at a session in the Brazilian capital Brasilia that ran from July 25 - August 3. Three days before the session, Putin signed a decree extending the powers of Rosokhrankultura.

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Director of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre Francesco Bandarin have criticized the project of the construction. Medvedev guaranteed Russia would comply with international norms on the protection of historical monuments.

    Opponents of the construction say local authorities are turning a blind eye to the city's planning restrictions for buildings over 100 meters tall and dismissing Russia's commitment to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

    Earlier this month, St. Petersburg City Court upheld the ruling of a district court giving the green light for the construction of the skyscraper in the city's historic city center.

    Protesters say they will appeal to the Presidium of the City Court, but the odds are against them.

    MOSCOW, August 18 (RIA Novosti) 

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