A century-old statue destroyed by far-right vandals has caused an uproar in Russia's second-largest city. Police are probing suspected work of religious extremists as Orthodox Church signals approval of vigilante act.
Hundreds rallied in St. Petersburg Sunday to protest the destruction of a demon statue ripped down last week. A group calling itself the "Cossacks of St. Petersburg" has claimed responsibility.
The figure of a bat-winged creature on Lakhtinskaya Street dated to around 1910 and was ripped down and apparently destroyed by vandals.
"What happened is awful," 35-year-old protester Anna Astakhova told the AFP news agency. "If it's true that the bas relief was destroyed for religious reasons, then we are descending into the Middle Ages."
In an open letter, the previously unknown Cossack group said the figure encouraged "open worship of Satan" and was unacceptable because it was opposite a church. However, established Cossack groups in the city denied any knowledge of the activist group.
But a spokesman for the powerful Russian Orthodox Church said the attack was an understandable reaction to a malevolent nuisance. "Mephistopheles embodies evil in this world and this person decided to act, most likely, to kill evil," spokesman Roman Bagdasarov told pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia.
Russian prosecutors say they have opened a probe into destruction of cultural heritage, which carries a jail term of up to two years.
Outcry over destroyed heritage
Parallels with Palmyra
Famed for its cultural heritage, St. Petersburg is often called the "northern Palmyra" because of its rich architectural treasures. After the destruction of the bas relief some drew parallels between the Russian vandals and Islamic State militants who have blown up temples in the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra.
Earlier this month fundamentalist Orthodox activists attacked exhibits at a show of sculptures in Moscow, saying they offended believers. More than $15,000 (13,420 euros) worth of damage was reportedly done to Soviet-era linocuts in the incident.
jar/jr (AFP, AP)