Sect Leader Refuses to Talk to Flock

A doomsday cult leader refused Wednesday to urge followers awaiting the end of the world in an underground hideout to release several children, a government official said.

Twenty-nine followers of self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov went into a cave about 640 kilometers southeast of Moscow earlier this month and have threatened to blow themselves up if forced to leave. They say they believe the world will end in May.

Kuznetsov had agreed earlier to talk to his followers Wednesday and seek the release of the four children in the group, the youngest of whom is 18 months old, said Yevgeny Guseynov, a regional government official. But he later refused to do so, Guseynov said.

"He changed his mind or maybe he lied in the first place," Guseynov said.

He said authorities would try again to convince Kuznetsov to coax his followers out, or at least to let the children go, but said everything depended on Kuznetsov's psychological state.

"We will wait until his state of mind allows it," Guseynov said.

Kuznetsov is now confined to a psychiatric hospital. He was charged last week with setting up a religious organization associated with violence.

Kuznetsov, 43, an engineer from a devout family, declared himself a prophet several years ago. He left his family and established the True Russian Orthodox Church.

He reportedly told his followers that, in the afterlife, they would be judging whether others deserved heaven or hell.