Santa Claus statue row in Turkey

Residents of the Turkish province of Antalya have held a rally to denounce the removal of a statue of St Nicholas, commonly known as Santa Claus.

Local authorities replaced the statue of the saint holding a Bible with a plastic Santa Claus.

The statue was a donation from Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has complained to the Turkish president.

St Nicholas lived in the town of Demre - then known as Myra - in Antalya in the 4th Century.

He is believed to have performed miracles to help poor chidren.

Tourist attraction

The statue stood in front of St Nicholas church in Demre - which was restored with the help of Russian Tsar Alexander II in the 19th Century.

Despite being a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey is proud of its St Nicholas connection.

The Russian artist who sculpted the statue, Gregory Pototsky, reacted angrily to its removal.

"It is not decent to do such things with gifts," he told the web site.

Demre has become a major tourist attraction, with Russians comprising a large part of international holiday-makers in Antalya.

The Turkish authorities have not commented yet on the Antalya rally and the complaint from Moscow.