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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Don't plot against Putin, UK tells Russian tycoon

LONDON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - British Foreign Minister Jack Straw warned UK-based Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky not to plot to overthrow Russian President Vladimir Putin while he is staying in Britain, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Berezovsky said he was "preparing a forced takeover of power in Russia" and accused Putin of creating an over-centralised and weak regime.

Britain damaged cordial relations with the Russian president when it granted Berezovsky asylum status in 2003.

London has refused to return the former oligarch to Russia where he is wanted on fraud charges, which Berezovsky says are politically motivated. Straw said Berezovsky's residence status could be reviewed if his presence was not "conducive to the public good" and condemned comments by Berezovsky in which he said that "coercive actions to take power" were justified if they were taken to restore Russia's constitution.

"Advocating the violent overthrow of a sovereign state is unacceptable," said Straw in a written statement, adding that Britain respected Russia's constitutional arrangements and the territorial integrity of Russia.

"The UK government will take action against those who use the UK as a base from which to foment violent disorder or terrorism in other countries," Straw said.

In the 1990s, Berezovsky enjoyed close ties to the Kremlin and the then President Boris Yeltsin.

He controlled much of Russia's media and helped Putin to power, but later fell foul of the president and fled Russia in 2000, becoming a vocal enemy from London. Straw's warning to Berezovsky comes after a period of mounting tension with Russia, an important business and energy partner.

Russia last month accused Britain of running a James Bond-style spying operation in Moscow using a receiver hidden in a fake rock to communicate secret information.

Moscow named four British Embassy workers as intelligence officers running Russian agents.

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