June 22, 2018 / 10:00 PM / 6 months ago

Chechen leader makes Salah honorary citizen

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - World Cup - Group A - Russia vs Egypt - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 19, 2018 Egypt's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Lee Smith

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov has made Egypt’s talismanic striker Mohamed Salah an honorary citizen of the southern Russian region at a farewell banquet held for the eliminated World Cup side.

Rights groups and Western governments allege that authorities in Chechnya repress their political opponents, discriminate against women and persecute sexual minorities, all allegations that Chechnya’s leaders deny.

Chechnya has been hosting the Egyptian team’s World Cup training camp and Kremlin-backed Kadyrov has seized on opportunities to appear alongside Salah, whose goalscoring exploits for Liverpool and Egypt have made him an international superstar.

“Mohamed Salah is an honorary citizen of the Chechen Republic. Yes, that’s right! Tonight I signed a decree conferring this high award on the great footballer and member of the Egypt and Liverpool teams,” Kadyrov wrote on Telegram.

Salah was presented with a badge and a copy of the decree at the dinner on Friday night, Kadyrov said.

The Egyptian team’s press officer has not replied to emailed Reuters requests for comment.

Kadyrov took charge of Chechnya in 2007, backed by Kremlin to impose tight control in the Muslim region where Russia had fought two brutal and costly wars to crush separatists since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In an interview with the BBC this week, he denied human rights abuses and laughingly rejected the idea he was using the presence of Salah for propaganda purposes.

“We don’t use this kind of thing for politics. Our enemies are paid to write articles like that. I didn’t invite Mohamed Salah or the Egyptian team, they chose us themselves,” he said.

Reporting by Mark Trevelyan, Jack Stubbs and Denis Pinchuk; editing by Amlan Chakraborty

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