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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 12:48 GMT
Rybkin drops challenge to Putin
Ivan Rybkin
Ivan Rybkin was not a serious threat to President Putin
The Russian presidential candidate who claimed he had been drugged and held against his will has dropped out of the contest.

Ivan Rybkin announced he was no longer challenging President Vladimir Putin in the 14 March elections.

Mr Rybkin disappeared last month, sparking international intrigue and a short-lived murder investigation.

But he resurfaced after five days, having gone to Kiev without telling anyone.

Mr Rybkin returned to Moscow from exile in London late on Thursday.

Alleged abduction

Previously, he had vowed not to return to Russia until after the election, for the safety of his family.

His reluctance followed his alleged abduction in the Ukrainian capital.

Mr Rybkin initially said he went to Kiev of his own accord, but then claimed he was lured there under false pretences, drugged and kidnapped.

After being offered some refreshments at an apartment in Kiev, he said, he suddenly became "very drowsy".

He was unconscious for four days, and was told by one of his guards when he woke up that it was part of a "special operation", he claimed.

Russian news agencies say Mr Rybkin returned to Moscow on Thursday on a plane owned by the billionaire businessman Boris Berezovsky, who has been granted political asylum in Britain.

Mr Berezovsky, a rival and stern critic of Mr Putin, has backed Mr Rybkin's presidential challenge and funds his Liberal Russia party.

Mr Rybkin, however, was not seen as a serious contender in the Russian poll, which Mr Putin is expected to win by a landslide.



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