Moscow newspaper which mocked the powerful closes

MOSCOW Mon Jun 16, 2008 2:38pm EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Moscow-based English language newspaper which poked fun at Russia and the West has closed after its backers stopped funding it, its editor said on Monday.

Officials from a Russian government agency responsible for the media visited the offices of The Exile on June 5 and took away copies for analysis, scaring investors who have withdrawn their support, editor Mark Ames told Reuters on Monday.

"The paper has shut down," said Ames, an American. "We lost our backing last week and had to withdraw an edition."

Ames declined to identify his backers, saying only that they were foreigners living in Russia.

He said the Kremlin wanted to censor the newspaper but a spokesman for the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecomunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage denied it was responsible for the closure.

"We have not closed the newspaper. That is wrong," the press officer said. "We have taken away copies of the newspaper for routine analysis."

The Exile's style of reporting blurred the line between comic and mainstream by tackling serious issues -- crime, corruption, poverty and politics -- with a harsh, jabbing humor. It also targeted Moscow's foreign community and Russians with practical jokes and stunts.

The Exile -- whose adverts mainly feature strip clubs and bars -- printed around 25,000 copies every fortnight. Ames said its Web site had around 250,000 unique users per months, mainly from the United States.

It will continue to publish online at www.exile.ru where it has appealed for cash from readers, said Ames, who set up the Exile in 1997.

Russian opposition groups accuse Vladimir Putin of trampling on human rights during his eight years as president, including centralizing control of mainstream media in pro-Kremlin hands.

Putin has been succeeded by Dmitry Medvedev and is now Russia's prime minister.

(Reporting by James Kilner; editing by Keith Weir)

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