Russia election: Putin shrugs off 'assassination plot'

Vladimir Putin has shrugged off a reported plot to assassinate him as campaigning in Russia's presidential vote enters its final days.

Russian TV showed two men with Chechen links confessing to the plot on Monday, after their arrest in the Ukrainian city of Odessa last month.

"You cannot live with constant fear - let them fear us," said Mr Putin.

Some analysts suggest news of the alleged plot was held until election week to boost Mr Putin's image.

While opinion polls indicate he is well placed to win in the first round, his ratings have fallen since previous elections in 2000 and 2004.

Allegations of widespread ballot-rigging at December's parliamentary election sparked Russia's biggest anti-government protests in decades.

'Living with this'

Mr Putin, who came to prominence as prime minister in 1999 during the second Chechen war, said of the plot reports on Tuesday: "I have been living with this since 1999."

His schedule, he added, would not change as a result of the reports from Odessa.

"Such things shouldn't be an obstacle, and they will not be,'' he said.

He was speaking on a visit to the southern city of Astrakhan after a natural gas explosion at a block of flats killed at least six people and injured 12.

Monday's report on state-run Channel One TV, which included televised confessions, said the suspects had been acting on instructions from Chechen Islamist warlord Doku Umarov.

Mr Umarov has said his forces carried out some of the bloodiest attacks in recent Russian history, including the bombing of the arrivals hall at Moscow's Domodedovo airport just over a year ago.

The men arrested in Odessa were detained after a fellow suspect was killed in a bomb blast at a rented flat there on 4 January.

But Communist presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov called the plot report "a cheap trick that reeks".

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a populist fellow candidate, said the assassination plot had been invented by political spin doctors and was designed to appeal to "poorly educated old ladies".

Asked if the reported plot was an election stunt, a spokesman for Mr Putin said such a suggestion was "blasphemous".

Anton Orekhov, political editor of Moscow Echo radio, said there was no doubt that Islamist militants from the Caucasus were "capable of carrying out whatever act of terror, and for them the bloodier the better".

"But how well timed this has all been," he added, quoted by AFP news agency.

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