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First of five domes put in place on Russian-funded church in Paris

French and Russian dignitaries have attended the hoisting of a massive golden dome onto the top of an Orthodox cathedral in the center of Paris. The church is envisioned as a part of the Russian embassy, Moscow says.

The central cupola, weighing around eight tons, was placed on top of the future Saint Trinity church during a special ceremony on Saturday.

This is the first of five domes needed to finish the construction at the exclusive Paris site, near the

Seine River

and the Eiffel Tower. Moscow is financing the project.

Russian deputy prime minister Sergey Prikhodko led a diplomatic delegation to mark the event on Saturday, meeting the French state secretary Jean-Marie Le Guen at the site.

Prikhodko thanked French and Paris officials for helping with the project "despite all the complications" on the international scene.

In addition to the church, the French builders are also constructing a bilingual school, an exhibition center and a structure to host church officials and cultural services of the Russian embassy.

"We are very hopeful that this spiritual and cultural center would be accepted by the Parisians and their guests," Prikhodko said.

In turn, Le Guen praised Russian soldiers who helped "save Paris" in World War I.

Reviving history

The Kremlin estimates that the project would cost some 90 million euros ($101 million) to complete, with additional funds needed for internal decoration. The massive church domes alone require some 90,000 sheets of gold for the finish.

The complex is scheduled to open in October. The cathedral and the accompanying building would be protected by diplomatic immunity as a part of the Russian embassy in France, according to Prikhodko.

Ahead of his Paris visit, Prikhodko praised the project as a "symbolic act."

"We are reviving historical monuments, not only on Russian territory but also beyond it, on the places where our presence was felt throughout history," he said.

The Russian deputy prime minister also said that the "bilateral mechanisms" with the French government were gradually normalizing, despite Russia's

economic woes.

dj/jm (AFP, AP, Interfax)

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