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[0] PUTIN FACES THE WRATH OF RUSSIA; He runs gauntlet of Kursk mums.

RUSSIAN leader Vladimir Putin was yesterday on his way to face the furious mothers of the Kursk.

He is due to fly to Murmansk then sail to the Barents Sea, where the nuclear submarine sank with the loss of all 118 crew.

After Moscow's shambolic handling of the crisis, Putin will pay tribute to the dead in what experts see as a bid to protect his image.

He has already declared today a national day of mourning.

But the former KGB hardman can still expect an angry reception from relatives after enjoying a holiday while his underlings lied, dithered and mishandled the rescue bid.

Many mothers and wives remain at the coast, where they shouted down a deputy prime minister at a televised meeting.

Now the president himself is in the firing line as the families and the nation demand answers.

All Russia is grieving. TV stations repeatedly show the names of the dead and footage of the Kursk leaving port with the crew standing proudly on deck.

The press is on the warpath, with popular daily Isvestia asking: "What if? What if they hadn't lied to us? What if they'd invited foreigners without waiting five days? What if we'd had the proper technology? It's too late."

The relatives have demanded to go to the scene of the disaster and may be taken by a hospital ship.

The nine-day rescue bid finally ended on Monday after Norwegian divers did what the Russians repeatedly failed to do and opened a hatch on the Kursk. They found the sub flooded.

The commander of Russia's Northern Fleet, Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, wept on TV as he begged forgiveness for failing to save the crewmen.

But other military chiefs have been less candid, with some claiming a collision with a British sub sank the Kursk. No evidence has emerged to back this up and a torpedo explosion is seen as a more likely cause.

The Renfrew-based LR5 rescue sub was yesterday on its way home without even putting to sea in the crisis. Unit commander David Russell said there was "an overwhelming feeling of sadness" among the crew.

Russia has asked Norway to help raise the Kursk and recover the bodies. Officials warn it could take months.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 23, 2000
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