Last children part of doomsday cult emerge from months in cave

Other News Materials 2 April 2008 16:48 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The last children belonging to a Russian doomsday cult, a 20-month-old baby and a young girl, surfaced Wednesday after being buried in a cave for six months to await the Apocalypse, Russian news agencies reported.

Following a night-long prayer vigil in the remote underground dugout, a Belarussian woman, her baby and 15-year-old daughter emerged to daylight under the escort of journalists and Russian emergency officials camped above the back-country gully.

Russian television showed the woman, dressed in a head scarf and floor-length black cloth, emerging with her belongings from the muddy cave in the Penza region, about 460 miles south-east of Moscow.

"Now there are only 11 left," the region's deputy governor Oleg Melnichenko told Interfax, adding that "all the children are now above ground."

Two young girls aged 8 and 12 left the cave on Tuesday along with the bulk of the extreme Orthodox sect who feared they would be buried after spring thaws collapsed a section of their subterranean lair.

Melnichenko said he hoped to convince the remaining cult members to leave their hole by the end of the day's negotiations.

Sect members have threatened to blow themselves up with stockpiled gas balloons and kerosene if authorities tried to remove them by force.

The cult leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, 44, who did not join his brethren underground, was released from a state psychiatric ward to aid in coaxing his 35 followers to the surface in negotiations conducted through an 11-metre ventilation pipe.

Kuznetsov and his followers have now retreated to houses sporting crosses in the farm village near the cave to continue praying ahead of the end of the world, which they anticipate in May.

The cult is a Russian Orthodox splinter group that claims to be the "true" church. Kuznetsov forbids members from paying taxes and buying products with a bar code, calling this identification codes satanic numbers.

The Russian Orthodox Church and the government are worried over the rapid growth of religious groups since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Security forces have been watching the remote gully around the clock and are keeping journalists at bay since the sect was discovered two months after it went underground in November.