Last of doomsday cult members emerge from cave

The last nine members of a Russian doomsday cult holed up underground for months awaiting the end of the world abandoned their cave today.

They were the remnants of group of 35 men, women and children who dug into a hillside near the Volga region town of Penza in November and threatened to blow themselves up with gas canisters if anyone tried to forcibly remove them.

The elaborate structure - complete with sleeping rooms, a makeshift kitchen and religious altars - suffered a series of partial cave-ins earlier this year caused by melting snows. The cave-ins prompted most of the group including self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov to leave.

The last nine emerged today after the bodies of two women who died in the cave were removed, a police officer said.

The officer did not say why the group left, but Russian news agencies quoted authorities as saying they left after being warned they could be poisoned by fumes from the rotting corpses.

"We could smell the stench through ventilation holes," a local official involved in the negotiations, Vladimir Provotorov, said. "As we pulled out the dead bodies, we suggested the others leave. They agreed."

Cult members who left the cave earlier told local journalists that the women had died from cancer and exhaustion.

Kuznetsov has been charged with setting up a religious organisation associated with violence. Last month, he was hospitalised after authorities said he tried to kill himself.

An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov - who goes by the title Father Pyotr - declared himself a prophet several years ago. He left his family and established the True Russian Orthodox Church and recruited followers in Russia and Belarus.

He reportedly told followers that in the afterlife, they would be judging whether others deserved heaven or hell. Followers were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money.

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