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The authorities of Russia’s Republic of Chechnya have slammed CNN over a report that Egyptian soccer star Mo Salah could leave the national squad in the wake of controversy involving his pictures with Chechnya’s autocratic leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
“This is a lie, this is rubbish,” Dzhambulat Umarov, Chechnya’s minister for national policy, foreign relations, print and information, said on the air of the radio station Govorit Moskva on Sunday.
“[Salah] couldn’t make statements like that,” he went on to say. “CNN defamed and put in an awkward position Mohamed Salah who is full of hopes that he will play as part of Egypt’s squad against [Chechen] club Akhmat.”
Earlier Sunday, CNN reported that Salah is considering quitting the Egyptian national team. The network quoted an anonymous source close to Salah’s club Liverpool as saying that the player “feels exposed by what has happened in Chechnya” and “doesn’t wish to engage in topics beyond football or to be used for anyone’s political image.”
Earlier this month, when the Egyptian national squad arrived in Chechnya’s capital Grozny, which it chose as its World Cup training base, a picture of Salah posing with Kadyrov made rounds in the media.
International human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, criticized the photo, citing Chechnya’s poor human rights record.
Last week, Kadyrov, a dedicated soccer fan, also known for friendly relations with Gerard Depardieu and Steven Seagal, made Salah an honorary citizen of Chechnya.
He also announced that the Egyptian national squad will play a friendly against the Chechen soccer club Akhmat, which plays in the top tier of the Russian league. No date for the match was announced, though.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Football Federation told CNN it was surprised to hear that Salah could quit the national team. The Egyptian football federation spokesman, Osama Ismail, said Salah had not complained to the federation.
“Only what Salah writes on his Twitter account should be counted on,” he said. The federation said in a later statement that “reports that Salah wants to leave are completely wrong. Mo is still with us now and he is happy in the camp. He is eating and laughing with his teammates. He is training well and that means no problem.”
Egypt lost chances to qualify for the playoffs when it lost to Russia 1-3 last Tuesday. Salah, who played for the first time after an injury, scored Egypt’s only goal.
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