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Madonna plays Moscow despite objections

‘A deeply believing person would never go to the concert’ says one priest
/ Source: The Associated Press

Madonna took to the stage of Moscow’s biggest stadium Tuesday night in spite of religious protesters’ threats to disrupt the performance.

At Luzhniki Stadium, a crowd of about 35,000 watched Madonna perform a concert that has been met with increasing opposition as the pop star’s “Confessions” tour traveled across Europe. The Russian Orthodox Church in particular has objected to religious imagery in the performance.

On Tuesday, no disorder was reported, although 10 Orthodox activists were detained outside the stadium for trying to conduct an unsanctioned protest ahead of the show. Other Orthodox faithful in small groups prayed outside the stadium.

Some 7,000 police officers were to be on hand in and around the stadium, on a bend in the Moscow River near Gorky Park.

At the heart of objections to the show is the culmination of the concert, when Madonna sings while suspended from a cross. She drew protests at earlier stops in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, where last week a priest was arrested for phoning in a fake bomb threat.

“I think a deeply believing person would never go to the concert,” the Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, told Associated Press Television News. “This lady ... plays with religious symbols, and I think it’s not only a matter of financial advancement of her production but it’s also a kind of attempt to justify and sanctify her message and her sins, using something holy.”

The Russian Orthodox Church has objected to the performance, pushing hard for the organizers to push it back from the initially planned date of Sept. 11 — both in a sign of respect for the victims of the terror attacks in the United States five years ago, and because that date coincided with a church holiday, the Feast of St. John the Baptist.

The venue was also switched. The concert originally was planned for a stage on the Vorobyovye Gory (Sparrow Hills), overlooking the Moscow River, but the Orthodox Church said that would be inappropriate because two churches are located there. The organizers scrambled to find another site after police said they could not ensure security in such a sprawling area.

City authorities pushed for the concert to be held at Tushino Airfield, the site of many outdoor rock extravaganzas. However, Tushino is on the outskirts of the city, it is anything but scenic and its security image is shadowed by an incident in 2003 when a double suicide bombing killed 14 spectators.

Scores of Orthodox protesters, dressed in religious costume and carrying religious symbols, have held noisy rallies over the past few weeks to protest the concert.

Madonna next scheduled concerts are in Osaka, Japan and Tokyo on Sept. 16 and 20 respectively.