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More than 300 members of Russia's world-famous Bolshoi Theatre rose Tuesday to the defence of a top dancer who was charged with masterminding a sulphuric acid attack against the ballet's artistic director.
The police detained Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko last week with two others who were accused of being in on the plot against Sergei Filin.
The ballet's artistic director is currently recovering from eye damage and facial disfigurement in a German clinic.
Dmitrichenko admitted to organising the attack in footage aired on Russian state television before changing his testimony and saying that he never intended for acid to be used.
But the theatre's crew -- including not only dancers but also singers and orchestra members -- said in a letter to President Vladimir Putin and the government that the confession seemed forced.
"For everyone who knows Dmitrichenko, the very idea that he could have thought of and ordered this crime -- committed in such a brutal manner -- is absurd," said the letter quoted by Russian news agencies.
"The conclusion made by the investigation seems premature to us, the evidence unconvincing and Pavel's confession itself, which was later changed, the result of strong pressure."
The Bolshoi cast also called for the creation of a commission that could oversee the investigation.
"We call on the country's leadership to create an independent commission that could uncover the reasons leading to this tragedy."
The remarkable case has highlighted the rivalries and politics that have poisoned relations in the Bolshoi ballet, which was first formed in 1776 and has become one of Russia's most appealing calling cards.
Dmitrichenko's attorney said Tuesday that his client was ready to cooperate with the investigation but not to assume the blame for the use of acid.
"Both he and I have a firm position stating that he never asked anyone to douse anyone with acid, causing severe injury," lawyer Alexander Barkanov was quoted as saying by the RAPSI legal news agency.
Filin himself said he believed Dmitrichenko organised the attack because of professional rivalries involving his girlfriend, also a Bolshoi ballerina, who was not given the star role in "Swan Lake".
"Every moment, every meeting I had with Pavel Dmitrichenko involved another threat or another demonstration of his dislike for me, and I do not intend to hide this now," Filin said in comments carried by Rossiya state television on Tuesday.