Twitter user sends hoax message on Assad's health

MOSCOW Mon Aug 6, 2012 1:47pm EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Twitter user sent a hoax message on Monday that quoted Russia's ambassador to Damascus as saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have been killed, forcing Russian officials to quickly deny the report.

A user on the social networking site apparently pretending to be Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev quoted the envoy, Sergei Kirpichenko, as saying Assad "has been killed or injured."

The ministry and the embassy denied the veracity of the report and a message later appeared on the same Twitter account saying "this account is a hoax." It did not say what the aim of the hoax was although it had briefly affected oil markets.

Russia is a strong ally of Assad and has repeatedly prevented tougher sanctions being imposed on Syria by the United Nations since the start of an uprising against the president 17 months ago.

Asked about the report that Assad may be dead, Artyom Savelyev, the Russian embassy's press attache in Damascus, said by telephone: "Our ambassador said nothing of the sort."

An Interior Ministry spokesman said Kolokoltsev had no Twitter account.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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