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Russia Marks 1,000 Days Before 2018 World Cup

At least 45,000 Russians have gathered in 33 cities to mark the 1,000-day countdown to the 2018 World Cup soccer championship games.

Not attending the September 18 event, however, was FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke, whose absence despite a previously scheduled appearance was due to his being suspended from his duties amid allegations he was involved in black-market sales of tickets to 2014 World Cup matches.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, appearing at Moscow's Red Square celebration by video linkup from Sochi, said Russia "promises to organize a grand sports holiday, which I am sure will make the history of the world sports and global football."

Putin launched a youth soccer tournament but he did not mention Valcke, who was FIFA President Sepp Blatter's right-hand man.

Blatter sent his regards in a statement, saying, "Given the current level of preparations, we are fully confident that Russia will prove to be an excellent host both for the teams and the fans."

Based on reporting by AP and TASS