Russian defence minister under fire over church order

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Russia's Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was under fire Thursday for allegedly insulting a paratroop commander who refused to demolish a church at his base, media reported.

Serdyukov, a former furniture executive and the first civilian to head the defence ministry, is already a hugely controversial figure in the military over plans for far-reaching army reform.

The latest controversy involves an incident where he personally ordered Colonel Andrei Krasov, the head of the paratroop academy in the region of Ryazan, to demolish a wooden church within the grounds, the Kommersant daily said.

Serdyukov argued that the defence ministry budget was not supposed to be destined for building churches and then allegedly went on to rebuke the commander using vulgar language.

Krasov, who has been decorated with the Hero of Russia award, told the minister that the church had been financed by veterans associations and several groups have now called on President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene.

In a sign of the scale of the controversy, an unnamed government official issued a denial on the Interfax news agency Thursday that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called for the minister's resignation.

© 2010 AFP

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