Putin says foreign foes use radical Islam to weaken Russia

Reuters

* Putin says Russia's foes exploit radical Islam

* Remarks follow suicide bombing, nationalist riots

* Islamist insurgency a security threat before Olympics

By Alexei Anishchuk

UFA, Russia, Oct 22 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putinaccused foreign rivals on Tuesday of using radical Islam toweaken Russia and appealed to Muslim clerics to help reducetensions after a deadly suicide bombing and nationalist riots.

The comments, his first on this month's riots in Moscow,were delivered in the mainly Muslim region of Bashkortostan andunderlined Kremlin concerns that ethnic or religious tensionscould threaten the unity of the Russian state.

Monday's suicide bombing, blamed on a Muslim woman from theNorth Caucasus, killed six people on a bus in Volgograd andraised fears about attacks as Russia prepares for the 2014Winter Olympics in Sochi.

"Some political forces use Islam, the radical currentswithin it ... to weaken our state and create conflicts onRussian soil that can be managed from abroad," Putin told Muslim clerics meeting in Ufa, Bashkortostan's capital, insouthern Russia.

"Tensions between the West and the Islamic world are risingtoday, and someone is trying to gamble on that by pouring fuelon the fire," he added.

Putin did not say which foreign rivals could be fosteringIslamist separatism. But he has often accused other countries,including the United States, of interfering in Russia's affairsand sought to deflect blame for problems onto other nationssince securing a six-year third term as president last year.

The Moscow rioting began over suspicions that an ethnic Slavwas stabbed to death by an Azeri national. Russian police laterresponded by rounding up hundreds of migrants.

Putin urged the clerics to help Muslim immigrants adapt tolife in Russia to reduce the likelihood of such violence.

"They need to hear your voice," he said. "Otherwise they become the objects of propaganda by various fundamentalistgroups."

ISLAMIST INSURGENCY

The former KGB officer became president after directing awar against separatist Muslims in power in the Chechnya regionof the North Caucasus in 1999 when he was prime minister.

But Russia is still struggling to contain an Islamistinsurgency in the North Caucasus and the Kremlin is concernedviolence could spread to other mainly Muslim regions of Russia.

A bomb was discovered and safely detonated by Russiansecurity forces near a trade centre on Tuesday in Khasavyurt inDagestan, in the North Caucasus, law enforcement officials said,underlining the daily threat of violence in the region.

Russia's 20 million Muslims make up around 15 percent of thepopulation of more than 140 million, and the percentage isexpected to grow.

The threat of violence spreading is a particular concern forPutin because Russia hosts the Winter Olympics in February andthe soccer World Cup finals in 2018.

He has staked his reputation on hosting a safe andsuccessful Olympics in Sochi, on the Black Sea, but has saidsecurity there is improving too slowly. Volgograd, where thefemale suicide bomber struck, is due to be a World Cup venue.

Attacks by insurgents from the North Caucasus include asuicide bombing at a Moscow airport that killed 37 people in2011 and subway bombings that killed 40 in 2010.

Putin deflected any responsibility for ethnic and religiousstrife, putting the blame partly on local authorities whichturned "a deaf ear to the people".

The president also depicted Russia as a force for peace inthe Middle East at what he said was a time of meddling by othercountries.

The Kremlin takes pride in a diplomatic initiative brokeredwith Washington last month to eliminate Syrian chemical arsenalsfollowing attacks on civilians blamed by other countries, butnot Moscow, on President Bashar al-Assad.

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