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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 August, 2003, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Belarus halts graves dig
Human bones on the cemetery
All human remains that were exposed will be reburied
Belarus has halted controversial renovation work on a football stadium built over an 18th-Century Jewish cemetery.

Local and international Jewish groups protested after builders dug up human remains and broken headstones during work on the stadium, in the western city of Grodno.

The stadium was built during the Soviet era on the site of 14,000 graves, some dating back several hundred years. Grodno was once a leading centre of Jewish culture and religion.

As well as halting the excavations, the authorities have agreed to change the building plans and rebury all the human remains exposed.

"This is the most important thing, because it means that nobody will be touching the Jewish remains anymore," said Yuri Dorn, president of the Jewish Religious Union of Belarus.

Mr Dorn signed an agreement to halt further work on the stadium's grounds in the capital, Minsk, with Grodno regional governor Vladimir Savchenko on Monday.

"We have tried to correct the situation. We are moving in the right direction," Mr Savchenko said.

The agreement also calls for the creation of memorial indicating that a Jewish cemetery is located on the site, and stipulates that any further work on and around the stadium requires the approval of the Jewish community, the Associated Press news agency reports.

International condemnation

A delegation of European Union ambassadors visited the cemetery and urged the authorities to call a halt to the work in July.

Twenty-two US congressmen sent a letter to the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to get the excavations stopped, with New York State Senator Hillary Clinton also adding her name to the protests.

The cemetery holds the remnants of Grodno's Jewish 20,000-strong community, which was nearly wiped out during World War II, the union says.

Grodno was one of the first cities captured by Nazi Germany in the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union.

Only 200 Jews are thought to have survived the occupation and many fled to Israel or the West following the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Belarus digs up Jewish graves
19 Jun 03  |  Europe

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