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Missing Russian Presidential Candidate Surfaces in Ukraine - 2004-02-10

The Russian presidential candidate who has been missing since last Thursday has surfaced in neighboring Ukraine, saying he was shocked by all the fuss about his disappearance.

Four days after family and friends last heard from him, Ivan Rybkin surfaced in Ukraine's capital city Kiev. The 57-year-old candidate from the Liberal Russia party said he went for a rest with some friends. He said he turned off his phone and the television set and did not know that all of Russia was wondering where he had gone and that police had launched a manhunt for him.

Mr. Rybkin's campaign manager says her boss had "enjoyed a nice four-day holiday" and could not understand why everyone was so worried about him. Even his wife said she had no idea where he had gone last Thursday when he vanished from his Moscow apartment.

Given his close links to controversial exiled oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, speculation was rife that his disappearance was either a publicity stunt, a kidnapping or even a case of murder. Two other prominent members of his party have been gunned down in the past year, and many feared the worst.

Both Mr. Berezovsky, who lives in exile in England, and Mr. Rybkin are frequent critics of President Vladimir Putin.

Before his disappearance last week, Mr. Rybkin launched his presidential bid in an open letter in a Russian newspaper, accusing Mr. Putin of ruling the country "in a climate of fear." He also criticized Mr. Putin for what he called his hard-line policy in breakaway Chechnya, where separatist rebels have been battling Russian troops for years.

The former speaker of the lower house of Russia's parliament has been on the margins of politics since losing his seat in 1996.

With opinion polls showing he has an approval rating of only one-percent, he stands no real chance of challenging Mr. Putin, who is expected to be re-elected on March 14 by a wide margin.