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Russia, China congratulate Ahmadinejad on vote win

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russia and China congratulated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his controversial re-election as he attended a summit in Russia on Tuesday despite mass protests against the result at home.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao both met Ahmadinejad, although the meeting with Medvedev was only brief because Ahmadinejad had travelled to the summit in the city of Yekaterinburg a day late.

Western powers have avoided recognising Ahmadinejad’s overwhelming win, which has brought tens of thousands onto the streets to allege vote-rigging and back the demand of defeated moderate rival Mirhossein Mousavi that the election be rerun.

Ahmadinejad used the platform of a televised plenary session of the summit to attack the United States in a speech, but made no mention of last Friday’s election or the protests.

Iran has observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which groups Russia, China and four ex-Soviet Central Asian states.

“The heads of SCO member states congratulated Ahmadinejad on his re-election,” Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said.

Ahmadinejad and Medvedev joked and smiled for television cameras, but Timakova said their meeting had been very short: “They did not even sit down.”

A brief report from China’s official Xinhua news agency also said Hu and Ahmadinejad “exchanged views on bilateral relations and issues of common concern” on the sidelines of the summit.

Russia and China, veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council, have both been involved in a United Nations-backed effort to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons -- something Iran says it has no intention if doing.

Russia, which has supplied Iran with nuclear fuel for a civilian reactor, says it has been given no evidence to show that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb.

Russia declined to criticize the Iranian election.

“The Iranian elections are the internal affair of Iran,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters.

“We welcome the fact that elections took place, we welcome the ... president on Russian soil and see it as symbolic that he made his first visit to Russia. This allows hope for progress in bilateral relations.”

Ahmadinejad has often stolen the limelight at major conferences, including an SCO meeting in Shanghai in 2006 that was dominated by news about Iran’s nuclear program.

His speech in Yekaterinburg addressed the United States, the Palestinian issue and reform of the world order.

“America is in the grip of political and economic crisis,” he told the SCO leaders, according to an official interpreter.

“The United States and its allies are unable to deal with the crisis.”

Besides Russia and China, the SCO groups the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Additional reporting by Chris Buckley, editing by Kevin Liffey