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The Russian president, once a high-ranking KGB official, spoke at great length about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism and the war in Chechnya. He said Chechen Muslims want a Caliphate, or Muslim state, "on Russian soil".|
Islamic "radicals have much more ambitious goals. They talk about setting up a worldwide Caliphate and the need to kill Americans and their allies," Mr Putin said.
"They talk about the need to kill all ... non-Muslims, or ‘crusaders’, as they put it. If you are a Christian, you are in danger.
"If you decided to abandon your faith and become an atheist, you also are to be liquidated according to their concept. You are in danger if you decide to become a Muslim. It is not going to save you anyway because they believe traditional Islam is hostile to their goals."
In Moscow yesterday, the daily newspaper Kommersant said the summit "ended in a serious scandal" because of Mr Putin’s comments, which it said followed a "provocative question".
Gazeta.ru, a leading on-line publication, quoted unidentified aides as saying the president was tired and angry from being peppered with Chechnya questions.
EU spokesman Jonathan Faull said the remarks by Mr Putin, if correctly reported, were "entirely inappropriate". Gunnar Wiegand, another EU spokesman, said Mr Putin used "decidedly less robust" language during meetings with EU leaders.
On Monday, Mr Putin and the EU leaders had failed to agree on a common statement about the war when the Russian president objected to references about human rights and the rule of law.
Mr Putin said he was fighting "religious extremists and international terrorists" in Chechnya, not an independence movement. He pointed to last month’s hostage-taking in a Moscow theatre by Chechen rebels. At least 128 of the approximately 750 hostages died when Russian special forces ended the siege with a knock-out gas.