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Monday December 9, 2013 MYT 1:37:01 AM
Monday December 9, 2013 MYT 1:49:51 AM
Germany's President Joachim Gauck leaves a historic refugee barrack used as the documentation centre during a visit to Syrian refugees at their temporary camp in Friedland, November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
BERLIN (Reuters) - German President Joachim Gauck will not attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia's Sochi in February, his office said on Sunday, with the government's human rights commissioner calling it a "wonderful gesture."
Presidential officials confirmed he would snub Russia's first ever winter Games but did not comment on media reports suggesting he was skipping them over the country's human rights record, saying there was "nothing unusual" about not going.
Gauck, who attended the 2012 London Olympics, has not visited Russia since taking office in 2012.
His decision was welcomed by the German government's human rights commissioner Markus Loening.
"It is important that the world watches and realises the things that are happening in Russia and what a great disappointment to democracy and human rights Russia is," Loening told Reuters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has staked his personal political prestige on staging a successful Olympics and the Games are expected to cost about $50 billion.
Preparations, though, have been overshadowed by international criticism over Russia's human rights record as well as a recent anti-gay propaganda law that critics claim discriminates against homosexuals.
Putin has said several times that gay athletes are welcome in Russia and that no discrimination will be tolerated. He has said the law is needed to protect young people.
Russia also faces security challenges as Sochi is next to its restive North Caucasus region, which is disrupted by almost daily violence from an Islamist insurgency rooted into two Chechen wars.
(Reporting by Matthias Sobolewski, Writing by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)
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