Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko promised on Tuesday to protect as a sacred spot the site of a World War Two Nazi massacre of Jews after an outcry over tentative plans to build a hotel complex nearby.
Some 150,000 people, mostly Jews but also including Ukrainians, Russians, Poles and Gypsies, were shot by Nazi troops at Babi Yar, a wooded ravine on the outskirts of the capital city Kiev in a two-year period from September 1941.
A decision earlier this month by the city council to build a hotel near the memorial site over the next few years prompted an outcry from Jewish groups worldwide and human rights groups.
Kiev mayor Leonid Chernovetsky has since stepped in and vetoed the proposal, though the affair has left a sour taste with the city's 25,000-strong Jewish community.
"The Babi Yar memorial is sacred. The Ukrainian leadership will not allow any defilement of the memory of our fellow citizens and will ensure the proper protection of their place of perpetual rest," Yushchenko said in a statement marking the 68th anniversary of the start of the massacre.
Over a two-day period from Sept. 29, 1941, a total of 33,771 Jews were killed by Nazi troops and dumped into a huge pit, nearly half of them children.
The area where the killings took place is now sprawling parkland which is not properly marked off and is the site of several monuments to victims of the massacre whose remains lie there.
The city authorities had proposed building a complex of hotels across Kiev, one of which would have run alongside the Babi Yar memorial park.
But they have denied there was any intention of putting up a hotel in time to house football supporters during Euro-2012.
"Nobody is intending to erect buildings for Euro-2012 on human bones," Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Vasyunik said.
"To disturb the bones (of people) is a terrorist act for all Kiev people and it is a terrible thing that such a thought even entered anyone's head," said David Melman, an aide to Ukraine's chief rabbi Moshe Asman.
He said the nature of the killings was such that it was impossible to say exactly where the remains of the Babi Yar victims lay and he suggested that building plans should give the whole area a wide berth.
"It is not as if Kiev is so overbuilt that they cannot find another place for hotels," he added.
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