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Racism row over Obama banana 'joke'
Agence France-Presse in Moscow
A pro-Kremlin lawmaker and former Olympic gold medallist is facing a racism row after she posted a photo-collage of President Barack Obama juxtaposed with a banana on Twitter.
Irina Rodnina's photomontage purports to show Obama and his wife gazing at a hand in the foreground holding up a banana.
The image evoked the brandishing of bananas at black players by some football fans, a crude racist slur still seen at some matches in Russia.
Now a lawmaker in the Duma lower house of parliament for the ruling party, Rodnina, 64, won three Olympic gold medals in figure skating in the 1970s and 1980s.
The image she posted on Twitter went viral after Russia's charismatic opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, reposted it on Friday night.
Navalny, who himself has raised eyebrows in the past by speaking at nationalist rallies, wrote: "Look at the jokes Russian MPs make."
Journalist Tikhon Zyadko responded on Twitter that: "Duma deputy Irina Rodnina doesn't hide she is a racist."
"Maybe this is everyday racism. Maybe it's that she was badly brought up and has a warped sense of humour," wrote the deputy editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets daily, Aider Muzhdabayev, in a blog. "The main thing is that Rodnina did this, and she doesn't regret it a bit."
After the post sparked a storm of disgust on Saturday, Rodnina deleted the message, but insisted she believed she had done nothing wrong.
"Freedom of speech is freedom of speech! Deal with your hangups yourself," she wrote defiantly on Twitter, saying the post had boosted her rating.