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Putin downplays planned no-show of key Western leaders at Sochi Games

Published on Jan 19, 2014 6:28 PM

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin downplayed on Sunday the planned no-show of key Western leaders at the Sochi Winter Olympics, and stressed that gay people were welcome, as he prepared to host one of the most controversial Games in modern history.

"The Olympics is not a competition of politicians. It is a competition of athletes," Mr Putin told foreign reporters in a televised interview, adding that mixing sport and politics was "absolutely inappropriate".

United States President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have said they will not attend the top sports event seen as Mr Putin's pet project.

Mr Putin also reiterated that Russia will welcome all athletes and visitors at the Games that begin at the Black Sea resort on Feb 7, regardless of their sexuality, seeking to deflect criticism that his policies were anti-gay.

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