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St. Petersburg marks 300 years

St. Petersburg
The Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg.

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LONDON, England -- Russia's former imperial capital, St. Petersburg, is preparing to welcome up to 50 world leaders for its 300th anniversary this month.

Russia's second city has prepared a lavish program of events and festivities for the Jubilee week that begins Friday.

One of the highlights is a concert that will be hosted by President Vladimir Putin -- at the city's famous Mariinsky Theatre -- with performances by Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming which will be broadcast around the world.

Ex-Beatles star, Sir Paul McCartney will also play in the northern city to celebrate the anniversary, giving a rock master class before his Moscow concert on Saturday. McCartney will return to the city for its celebrations after his gig.

The city's founder, Peter the Great, moved his court from Moscow to the planned new settlement in 1703. The canal city was hailed as a victory of man over nature as 40 islands were joined by drawbridges on Neva River Delta.

Some of the highlights of the week will include concerts, performances and shows on the city's stages including a musical on Tolstoy's novel "Anna Karenina", an opera of "Peter the Great" by Gaetano Donizetti and a concert by New York's Metropolitan Opera Orchestra along with art and military exhibitions and shows.

Konstantin Palace, former home of Putin's idol Peter the Great, has had a facelift costing an estimated $300 million. The palace was heavily damaged during the World War II. The project was initiated by St. Petersburg leaders for the use of Putin, who likes to bring international VIPs to his native city.

The week-long festival is the highlight of a year of celebrations. The national government has given 40 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) to the city to prepare for the celebrations, Valentina Matvienko, Putin's representative said at a news conference.

But not everything has gone to plan.

The festivities have been marred by allegations of corruption, disorganization and embezzlement.

Putin was born in the city.

The unveiling of a statue of Nobel Peace prize winner and father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Andrei Sakharov, earlier this month was fiercely opposed by his widow.

The 10-foot statue was an "insult to his ideals," Yelena Bonner Sakhavov, told The Times of London.

There are fears that restoration work to famous landmarks such as Smolny, Kazan Cathedral and Mukhailov Castle will not be completed on time. More than 7,000 people are working day and night to complete the work in time for the arrival of world leaders.

The five million residents of St. Petersburg -- known as Leningrad during the Soviet era -- are also said to be disillusioned with the celebrations.

In recent opinion polls, 75 percent believed that the festivities had been mishandled according to The Times.

St. Petersburg has been called the birthplace of global communism. Almost a million people died in a 900-day siege during World War II.

The city remained the national capital for more than two centuries before the October Revolution established Moscow as the new center.

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