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* Russian President Vladimir Putin called nationalism and xenophobia a genuine threat to the government.

Putin made the comments during an expanded meeting of workers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, according to a report by the Russian Web site

“Militant nationalism, xenophobia, calls to violence and interethnic discord always have been and continue to be a ticking time bomb beneath our government,” Putin said, adding that extremism had to be “cut off at the root.”

The statement came on the heels of a Jan. 30 report by the Sova Informational- Analytical Center that said hate crimes had grown by 13 percent in 2007 over the previous year.

A new law to combat extremist speech was passed ahead of the 2007 state Duma elections. Proponents of the law maintain that it will make it easier to prosecute hate speech, while opposition figures have expressed fears that the law was designed to target their operations.

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