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Yuri Gagarin’s bust unveiled in Bethlehem close to Nativity Basilica

The bust has been installed in a park adjoining Manger Square

BETHLEHEM /West Bank of the Jordan/, January 20. /TASS/. The unveiling of a bust of the Earth’s first man who went into space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin took place in downtown Bethlehem on Friday.

The bust has been installed in a park adjoining Manger Square where the city’s main shrine, the Nativity Basilica is located.

Overnight to Friday and in the early hours of the morning, the city had a rainy weather with a strong wind but the clouds dissipated by the beginning of the ceremony and the bust emerged before the eyes of the public under the warm sunrays.

"The Russian Gagarin in the Palestinian Bethlehem signals the continuing presence that Russia has always had in Palestine beginning with the 19th century," the Russian envoy to the Palestinian National Authority, Aidar Aganin told TASS.

"Gagarin’s bust in Bethlehem connects the 2,000-years-long history of humankind in the new era with the newest chapter that began with man’s breakthrough into space on April 12, 1961, when Gagarin brought human presence into orbit and became a symbol of humankind’s aspirations for a bright future," Aganin said.

The monument to Gagarin became one more emblem of Russian presence in Bethlehem. The city is home to a multirole cultural a sports center built by the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation that has two buildings - a business center with conference halls and offices, two large gyms for judo/karate and for Greco-Roman wrestling, and a cultural/musical center with an auditorium and a recording studio.

Located fairly close to the multirole center is the Russian Center of Science and Culture.

Also, Bethlehem has a Russian-Palestinian Friendship school for boys where the Russian language is in the curriculum, Aganin recalled.

In addition, Russia supported reconstruction of the historical Star Street that was finalized a year ago. The street begins on Manger Square by the walls of Nativity Basilica. The project was sponsored by the Russian government in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Finance of the Palestinian Authority, as well as by Bethlehem municipality.

UNESCO has placed Star Street on its list of world historical heritage.

The monument to Gagarin came as a present to the people of the Palestinian National Authority from the Dialogue of Cultures/ United World Foundation. Russia’s Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society assisted in its installation in Bethlehem.

"This bust of the Russia pilot, who was the Earth’s first cosmonaut, is the 44th monument to Gagarin installed abroad and it will beyond any doubt become a symbol of peace and friendship of peoples of the planet," Sergei Stepashin, the president of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society said in address that was read out in Bethlehem on Friday.

The project of installing bronze monuments to Gagarin in different parts of the globe started out in 2011 and the cosmonaut’s busts have appeared in about three dozens of countries since then.

The Dialogue of Cultures/ United World Foundation that was set up in 2005 has implemented more than 450 projects in close cooperation with various Russian and international organizations including UNESCO, the Imperial Palestinian Society and the Russian Academy of Sciences.