Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is backing a UNESCO bid to halt construction of a dominating glass-and-steel skyscraper among the baroque mansions of St Petersburg's historic centre, his spokeswoman said on Friday.
The 403-metre (1,322-foot) tower, set to house state-run gas giant Gazprom's offices by 2016, has caused an outcry among residents of St Petersburg and opposition parties.
Weighing into the debate for the first time, Saint Petersburg native Medvedev called for officials to note the call by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's call for the building to be halted or scaled back.
Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters that Kremlin advisor Sergei Prikhodko had sent a letter to St Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko and other officials which said the president wanted officials to take note of UNESCO's position.
"The letter does not specify what action should be taken, but reminded them of the necessities to observe international obligations of the Russian Federation," Timakova said.
Supporters, including powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, say the $3 billion Okhta Centre project will help revive the economy of the former imperial capital on Russia's western border.
But UNESCO has warned it might exclude St Petersburg from its list of world heritage sites if the tower is built, as it would dominate the canals and elaborate pastel houses of the city founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 as Russia's window on Europe.
Leading daily Kommersant quoted the letter in its Friday edition as saying: "He (Medvedev) took particular note of the UNESCO decision, which calls for a halt to all work on the building in Saint Petersburg of the Okhta Centre and consider alternatives in terms of its height."
Medvedev noted "the importance of these recommendations to maintain a constructive dialogue with UNESCO and to prevent harm to Russia's reputation," the letter said.
Kommersant said extracts from the letter were read out at a meeting on Thursday by Alexander Kibovsky, head of the federal agency for the protection of cultural sites, Rosokhrankultura.
"The president gave us strict orders to ensure the unwavering observance of Russia's international commitments under the UNESCO convention," Kibovsky said.
Russia's Minister of Culture Alexander Avdeyev, in an interview with Itar-TASS news agency on Friday, called for the tower's plans to be revoked.
Putin, also a native of St Petersburg, has voiced support for the tower. Before running for election as president, Medvedev worked as Gazprom's board chairman.
Putin has not commented on the project in recent months and other officials have expressed growing doubts about the project following the warnings from UNESCO.
Dubai's Arabtec Holding won the contract to build the first stage of the tower in April 2008, and planned to start construction last year 2009.
ReutersLast Mod: 22 Mayıs 2010, 00:09