Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) talks to journalist Andrew Marr in Sochi, in this BBC handout taken January 17, 2014. REUTERS/Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via Reuters
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Russian President Vladimir Putin downplayed Sunday the planned no-show of key Western leaders at the Winter Olympics in Sochi and stressed that gays were welcome as he prepared to host one of the most controversial Games in modern history.Putin insisted that gays and lesbians were not discriminated against in the country.Putin has faced huge criticism abroad for Russia's dismal human rights record, and many have called on world leaders to boycott the Games.While the freed Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, have called on world leaders to ignore the Games, Khodorkovsky has spoken out against a boycott, saying a "festival of sport should not be spoilt".But he warned it should not be a "festival of Vladimir Putin". Putin personally championed the country's 2007 bid to host the Games, which he apparently sees as one of the crowning achievements of his decade in power. Putin said Russia spent 214 billion rubles ($6.4 billion) to prepare for the Olympics, but experts estimate the entire cost of hosting the Games at more than $50 billion.
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