Religious union leader denies links with Siberian sect

Agence France-Presse/March 3, 1999

Moscow -- The leader of Russia's Pentecostalist union denied having any part in the actions of a sect that holed up in a building in a remote part of eastern Siberia for two days and threatened mass suicide, ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Russian police on Wednesday ended the Pentecostalist group's occupation of a public building in Yakutia's Aldan district when the 60 people inside left quietly without resistance.

Vladimir Murzha, head of Russia's Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostalists), said the sect was not part of his organization.

"Blackmail, calls for mass suicide, such unlawful methods cannot be used in the arsenal of Evangelical Christians and people of faith in general," Murzha stated.

He dismissed reports that his union discouraged its members from seeking medical care and going to school, practices for which an Aldan district court banned the renegade sect Wednesday.

The fundamentalist Christian group had invaded the building Monday to protest a January decision by residents of their village, Kutana, to expel them.

Their exact motives and goals for the occupation were unclear.

Murzha stated that he did not know to which larger union the Siberian sect belongs.

According to the Russian daily Segodnia, the Pentecostalist movement was born in the United States and registered in Russia in 1994.

It now boasts 46 branches in Russia, 1,155 churches and 900 Sunday schools.

Three churches are registered by the Justice Ministry in Yakutia, but none in the Aldan district, Murzha said.

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