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Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 14:37 UK

Putin dismisses divorce rumours

Vladimir and Lyudmila Putin, pictured 2 March 2008
Putin strongly denies claims he has split up with his wife

Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied rumours he has secretly divorced and plans to remarry.

He told reporters during a visit to Italy there was "not a single word of truth" in the tabloid news reports.

The papers linked him to 24-year-old former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, who is now a member of parliament.

Mr Putin said: "I have always reacted negatively to those who with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies prowl into others' lives."

He said many beautiful women were mentioned in the papers and he liked "them all, like all Russian women".

"I don't think I will offend anyone if I say that I, personally, consider that our Russian women are the most talented and the most beautiful," he said standing alongside Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"If anyone can compete with them, then it might be Italian women," he added in response to a Russian reporter's question on the rumours.

Ms Kabayeva's office has told other news organisations that she has no comment on the claims.

A spokeswoman for Ms Kabayeva, quoted by Reuters news agency, said the reports of a romantic liaison with President Putin were "all complete rubbish".

Berlusconi comments

Mr Berlusconi has also been known to pronounce on the physical attributes of women.

Russian gymnast Alina Kabayeva, February 2008
Alina Kabayeva represented Russia at two Olympic Games

Only last week, he said right-wing female politicians were better looking than their left-wing counterparts.

He was quoted as telling local media on the pre-election campaign trail that the left had "no taste" in women.

His remarks provoked an angry reaction from the centre-left, which accused him of being sexist.

It is unclear whether Mr Putin's comments will prompt a similar reaction in Russia, where he has cultivated what some see as a macho image.

He has been photographed fishing, bare-chested in the wild, on board fighter jets and taking part in black-belt judo.


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