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Russia: Putin's 'rape joke' played down

Publish Date: 20 Oct 2006
Source: BBC News

Mr Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Moscow. Mr Putin's spokesman said the joke was not meant to be overheard. Photo/Getty Images.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been overheard joking about the virility of his Israeli counterpart, who is accused of multiple rape.

A Russian journalist said Mr Putin joked that President Moshe Katsav was a "mighty man", adding "we all envy him".

Mr Katsav is facing allegations that he raped members of his staff. He strongly denies the claims.

A Kremlin spokesman admitted Mr Putin made a joke, but said it was not meant to be overheard.

Mr Putin's comment was made at the end of a press conference held by Mr Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Moscow, which focused mainly on the Iran crisis.

As the leaders prepared to leave, the microphone caught Mr Putin saying "greetings to your president".

The microphone then went dead, but journalist Andrei Kolesnikov told the BBC he heard the rest of the comment.

He said the president continued: "What a mighty man he turns out to be! He raped 10 women - I would never have expected this from him. He surprised us all - we all envy him!"

There reportedly followed loud laughter among the official delegations.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov admitted: "Yes really, these words were pronounced."

But he said it "in no way means that President Putin welcomes rape".

"The president was joking," he told the BBC's World Today radio programme.

"Russian is a very complicated language, sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing.

"I don't think that the proper translation is able to reflect the meaning of the joke."

Israeli police have said there is enough evidence to charge Mr Katsav, 60, over allegations of "rape, forced sexual acts, sexual acts without consent and sexual harassment".

He may also be charged with wire-tapping.

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