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Putin Spokesman Dismisses Illness Rumors

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has rejected speculation that the Russian leader is in poor health.

Dmitry Peskov told Ekho Moskvy radio on March 12 that Putin is "absolutely" healthy and suggested a busy schedule is keeping him from making public appearances.

Rumors about Putin's health spread after a March 12-13 meeting with the Kazakh and Belarusian presidents in Astana was postponed and a Kazakh official told Reuters news agency "it looks like [Putin] has fallen ill."

Putin was also reportedly supposed to meet with a delegation of officials from Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia on March 11.

Reuters quotes an "official familiar with the arrangements" as saying the delegation was prepared to leave South Ossetia "but they did not make it to the plane because they were told it [the meeting] was postponed."

Putin, 62, has not been seen in public since giving a televised address to Interior Ministry members on March 5.

The RBK news website reported that images of Putin attending an event to mark International Women's Day on March 8 were actually from an event on March 5.

Another meeting that the Kremlin's press service said Putin had with the governor of Karelia, Aleksandr Khudilaynen, on March 11 was actually held earlier. According to RBK, the "Internet-newspaper Vesti Karelia already reported [on the meeting] on March 5."

But Peskov said on March 12 there was "no need to worry" and "everything is fine."

He added that Putin is "holding meetings all the time" and has a "very busy" schedule discussing "crisis-linked issues," but he gave no details and mentioned no specific meeting.

The Kremlin said later on March 12 that Putin had spoken by phone with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian.

Asked whether Putin's handshake is firm, Peskov joked: "He's breaking hands."

State-run news agency TASS said Peskov suggested those spreading rumors that Putin is ill are themselves suffering from "spring fever."

Despite the denials of health problems, social network sites were filled with comments and speculation about Putin's condition with some going so far as to say the Russian president might be dead.

Russians are long accustomed to rumors about leaders falling ill as being a prelude to an official announcement of their leaders deaths, such as was the case with Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Konstantin Chernenko.

Peskov made a statement broadcast by the Rossia 24 television channel in which the presidential spokesman said Putin had a "number of meetings scheduled until the end of the week and had a busy schedule next week also.

Based on reporting by Ekho Moskvy, RBK, Reuters, AFP
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