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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
St Petersburg marks anniversary

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC correspondent in St Petersburg

The people of St Petersburg are marking the city's 300th anniversary - the highlight of 10 days of festivities.

A religious procession walks in front of a portrait of Tsar Peter the Great during celebrations
Peter the Great is always at the centre of the celebrations
The celebrations stretch through to the weekend where more than 45 heads of state descend on the city.

Tuesday's party, though, is for the people.

It started with a bang - with a daytime firework display over Senate Square on the banks of the river Neva.

Multi-coloured balloons floated high into the sky above the city's most famous monument to its founding tsar, Peter the Great.

"I am old now, so I can't jump and sing for joy," Ira, one of the city residents who came to the party, said.

"But I wanted to come here anyway. It is good that people still care."

'European hub'

St Petersburg was born exactly three centuries ago, created by Peter from swampland as Russia's window on Europe.

A replica of old Russian ship Russian at an anchor in front of Peter and Paul fortress
The city was the birthplace of Russia's fleet

For years, though, the city has been sorely neglected in favour of Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has chosen this anniversary to reverse that trend and relaunch his hometown as Russia's European hub.

That hasn't come cheaply.

Well over $1 billion has been spent repainting and restoring for the occasion.

Workers were sill putting the finishing touches to city parks and palaces late into the night.

Residents' anger

And there has been a scandal too - millions of birthday fund dollars reported missing, believed stolen, and anger from residents who say spending vast sums on grand renovations is wrong when they are left living in squalour.

But in public at least, most people are simply enjoying the party.

Normal life in the city has ground to a halt and the streets and canals are filled with crowds.

They are making the most of the day's festivities and the sunshine.


SEE ALSO:
Russian city's angry anniversary
27 May 03  |  Europe
BBC's St Petersburg tributes
23 Apr 03  |  Entertainment


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