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Anniversary news
St Petersburg marks anniversary
05.24.2003 13:25

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. 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.

By Sarah Rainsford, BBC correspondent in St Petersburg


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