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Putin remarks stun Russian media

MOSCOW, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's remarks Monday to a reporter at a news conference in Brussels shocked the Russian media and made waves in Europe as his words Tuesday were translated in full from Russian.

Putin had had a hard day arguing with his European Union counterparts at the Russia-EU summit in Brussels over details of visa-free transit between Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad and the rest of the country, and the president had endured unpleasant remarks regarding the continuing war in the separatist republic of Chechnya.

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Still, Putin's aides and EU officials could hardly have predicted the outburst that took place at the final news conference.

Putin had silently sat listening to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen explain why Denmark had allowed a Chechen separatist congress to take place in Copenhagen, but was clearly seething as his Danish colleague brushed off the question of state support for the gathering.

Putin was then asked by a reporter from Le Monde about the use of heavy artillery and mines in Chechnya, and began replying, defending his policy on Chechnya, before suddenly becoming agitated and launching into a verbal assault on the reporter.

Speaking in Russian, Putin told the reporter that the radical Muslim forces fighting in Chechnya endanger all non-Muslims, who are called "crusaders" if they are Christian, and also place non-radical Muslims in danger.

"If you decide to abandon your faith and become an atheist, you are to be disposed of. You are in danger if you decide to become a Muslim. That will not save you because they (the rebels) believe traditional Muslim is hostile to their goals," Putin said.

Putin then said: "If you are prepared to become a radical Muslim and undergo circumcision, I invite you to Moscow."

"Our nation is multi-confessional, we have specialists in this field who can deal with this. I suggest you have an operation so that nothing grows out of you again," the Russian leader said.

The remarks were not translated from Russian during the news conference, so as not to embarrass E.U. leaders present, but Russian speakers in the audience were stunned by the Putin's words.

Putin's aides later attempted to dismiss the verbal attack, saying Putin was tired after a busy day of talks and had been thrown by the "unexpected" question.

EU officials, informed later of the actual words used by Putin, said the remarks were "out of place" and "completely inappropriate."

Putin has been known to lose his cool over Chechnya at news conferences, using slang and descending into jargon used by criminals.

In October 1999, before he launched a massive military attack on rebel forces, Putin famously declared that he would "waste the bandits in the sh**house."

On Tuesday, the Russian media appeared as shocked as Putin's aides, jumping on the story. Russian television networks repeatedly broadcast the tape with Putin's outburst, and Russian newspapers gave the remarks front-page coverage, with the respected Gazeta daily headlining its story "Putin suggests Europe gets circumcised," while the Vremya Novostei used "Invitation to a circumcision" as its headline.

The Kommersant daily said the European summit had ended in scandal because of Putin's heated outburst.

News coverage of the Kaliningrad agreement was overshadowed by the remarks, but there is no sign that the outburst will hurt the tough-talking president's ratings.

Following his sordid remark three years ago, Putin's ratings jumped as he was seen as a no nonsense guy who would be ruthless with terrorists and separatists.

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