Hundreds of people are rallying in St. Petersburg to protest plans to give the city's landmark cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Local police said under 2,000 people attended the demonstration in central St. Petersburg on Saturday. "Don't steal" one placard read.

The announcement earlier this month that the neoclassical St Isaac's Cathedral will be put under Orthodox Church ownership has inflamed public passions in Russia. More than 200,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the city authorities to reconsider.

The transfer of St Isaac's has been seen as part of the growing power of the Orthodox Church and a trend of social conservatism in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has appealed to traditional values as opposed to Western liberalism to help tighten his grip on society.