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Russia is launching an investigation into whether Tsar Nicholas II and his family were killed by Jews as part of a 'ritual murder' in a move that has infuriated anti-Semitism campaigners.Father Tikhon Shevkunov, the Orthodox bishop heading an investigatory panel, is among hardcore members of the church who claim the final Russian emperor was murdered in a Jewish ritual.The Russian Orthodox Church made them saints in 2000.Conspiracy theories blaming the Jews for spearheading the Bolshevik revolution were popular among the post-revolution Russian emigres and the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, and were later picked up by some hard-line nationalists.Mr Gorin said his group was shocked and angered by the statements from both the bishop and the Investigative Committee, which he said sounded like a revival of the century-old 'anti-Semitic myth' about the killing of the imperial family.Discussing the Tsar's murder, Father Shevkunov claimed the 'Bolsheviks and their allies engaged in the most unexpected and diverse ritual symbolism'. Nicholas and his family were canonised as passion bearers, a title commemorating believers who face death in a Christ-like manner, by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000 Jews in Russia have long struggled against anti-Semitism both before, during and after the days of the Soviet Union.

Yet persecution soon began afresh, with synagogues and other Jewish properties confiscated by the state in 1919 under anti-religion laws.Tsar Nicholas was shot with his wife and five children by Communist Bolsheviks in 1918 after Vladimir Lenin came to power, and wild rumours about the circumstances surrounding his death have circulated ever since.Boruch Gorin, a spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities, Russia's largest Jewish group, expressed a strong concern about the claims, which he described as a 'throwback to the darkest ages'.Marina Molodtsova, a senior Investigative Committee official, said the probe would 'resolve issues of whether the Romanov family murder had a possible ritual component'.Key members of a church commission linked to the criminal investigation 'do not have any doubts' the shooting was 'ritualistic', he said.

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