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Russian candidate: I was drugged and kidnapped
Updated: 2004-02-14 11:04

Russian presidential hopeful Ivan Rybkin caused more confusion Friday by saying he had been drugged and filmed in a "disgusting" video in Ukraine during the five days he went missing without explanation.

Russian presidentential candidate Ivan Rybkin as he speaks with journalists during a news conference held at a central London hotel, Friday Feb. 13, 2004, in which he explained the story behind his reported disappearance from Russia. [AP Photo]

Rybkin's account to journalists in London was the third time he has tried to explain why he had gone off to Kiev without telling his wife or campaign aides. His disappearance triggered a police manhunt before he suddenly resurfaced five days later.

On his return to Moscow, Rybkin, a harsh critic of President Vladimir Putin, initially said he had been with friends, but later told an interviewer he had feared for his life and gone into hiding for part of the time in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

On Friday, Rybkin said he had gone to a Kiev flat in the company of strangers who said he would be meeting Chechnya's fugitive president Aslan Maskhadov. He awoke after a time to find himself beside two armed men who showed him pictures of himself and others in "disgusting" video films intended to compromise him.

"All my statements in recent days in Kiev and in Moscow do not reflect the reality and were forced. I was trying to ensure the safety of my family and myself," he said. "I don't know who did it, but I know who would benefit from it. It benefits those who want to compromise and humiliate the opposition."

Moscow media have reacted with incredulity to earlier explanations of Rybkin's disappearance.

Like five other challengers running in the March 14 contest, Rybkin is unlikely to score more than a few percentage points against the widely popular Putin.

A former speaker of parliament and negotiator with Chechen rebels, Rybkin said he decided during his captivity that he would remain in the presidential race come what may.

"I decided that I didn't care about my reputation or whatever might happen to me and that I would do all I could to prevent all those incompetents and President Putin from destroying my country," he said. "From today I am launching an election campaign from here, from abroad."

Rybkin has been supported by exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who launches periodic attacks on Putin from his base in Britain, where he has been granted political asylum.

Berezovsky expressed surprise at Rybkin's disappearance this week and said that unless a reasonable explanation was given his political career was over.

Rybkin said he would remain in western Europe until after the elections to ensure the safety of his family. But unlike Berezovsky, he had no intention of seeking asylum and pledged to return to Russia whatever the election result.

Rybkin said the Berezovsky-sponsored Liberal Russia party continued to back his candidacy.

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