Tsar Nicholas II and his family
Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Left to right: Grand Duchess Maria, Tsarina Alexandra, Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, Tsar Nicholas II, and Grand Duchess Anastasia. Tsarevich Alexei sits in front of his parents CC

The Russian Orthodox Church has demanded further testing of the remains believed to belong to the son and daughter of Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II, which the government plans to rebury in St Petersburg. On Friday, a working group set up by the Russian government proposed on Friday to bury crown prince Alexei Romanov and his sister, grand duchess Maria, with the remains of their mother, father and siblings, in Peter and Paul Cathedral on October 18.

However, the Russian Orthodox Church has demanded further testing of the remains before it gives assent to the plans. "People have questions. We want further investigation so that any tests are done in the presence of church officials," said Vsevolod Chaplin, church spokesman. He said that the working group had agreed to the request, and the church also wanted further testing of the remains already interned in the cathedral, who are regarded as saints by the Orthodox church.

The Tsar, his wife Alexandra, and their children Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia were shot dead in the basement of a house in Yekaterinburg, where they were being held after the Bolsheviks seized power in the 1917 October revolution. The church has refused to recognise DNA tests which have established the remains belong to the Russian royal family, with the remains of Maria and Alexei kept in a repository since 2007.

DNA test for sainthood

Explaining the importance of establishing the identity of the remains, Chaplin said, "These people have been canonised, and if their remains are found they will be considered holy relics that believers will pray to. For this reason it's very important to make sure."

The descendants of the Russian imperial dynasty, many who have been living abroad, planned to attend the burial ceremony.

"We're very happy this story is coming to an end, but at the same time there's bitterness over the fact that the church hasn't recognised the remains," Ivan Artsishevsky, a spokesman for the relatives, told news agency Interfax on Friday.

The remains of Nicholas, Alexander, Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia and several servants, who were killed alongside them, were buried in a ceremony in the cathedral in 1998 attended by then-president Boris Yeltsin. The remains of Alexei and Maria, who were 13 and 19 when they were killed, were found at a site 43 miles away from where the other members of the family were buried.

Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, links between the Kremlin and the Orthodox church have strengthened. Russian lawmakers have called for the descendants of the Romanovs to be given a formal public role.