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Football legend Ronaldinho has sparked outcry after being pictured with Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader whose regime has been accused of rounding up and torturing gay people.
Pictures posted to the official Facebook account of the former Brazil international show the footballer alongside Mr Kadyrov, who gave a thumbs-up to the camera.
Mr Kadyrov, who is backed by the Kremlin, this weekend gave an interview on TV network HBO in which he denied that there were any gay people in Chechnya and that “if there are any, take them to Canada”.
Canada’s foreign ministry has called on Russia to investigate allegations of the abduction and torture of 100 LGBT people in Chechnya that surfaced in Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta earlier this year.
Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in an April statement: “Recent and ongoing reports of the persecution of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya are reprehensible.
“We call on the Russian authorities to thoroughly investigate these reports and to immediately ensure the safety of all persons in Chechnya who may be at risk due to their sexual orientation.”
In the HBO interview, Mr Kadyrov added: “Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”
Asked about the allegations of abuses against gay people in the predominantly Muslim republic, he snapped: “They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people.
“God damn them for what they are accusing us of. They will have to answer to the Almighty for this.”
It is not clear whether World Cup winner Ronaldhino is aware of the claims surrounding Mr Kadyrov.
The caption to the photo, which appeared to have later been removed, read: “Very well received by everyone here in Grozny. Too special, come from so far and receive so much affection!!! Thank you for everything.”
Angry fans slammed the football hero on his Facebook feed.
“No Ronnie, what are you doing,” wrote one person.
“Shame on you …You know he is the president of Chechnya that torture and kill gay people … Shameful,” wrote another.
One person made the point that Ronaldinho would probably have had no choice in the taking of the photograph.
Ronaldhino’s representatives have been approached by the Standard for comment.
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