Date :3/24/03 9:43:38 PM
  No.: 35
llll bbbb SPA -35- general/ Russia's Putin warns Bush to avoid Iraq catastrophe Moscow, Mar. 24, SPA -- Russian President Vladimir Putin warned U.S. President George W. Bush by telephone on Monday to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq, a Kremlin spokesman said.

"In an exchange of views on the Iraq crisis, the Russian side emphasised the humanitarian consequences of military action," he said.

"V. Putin confirmed Russia's stated position on the Iraq settlement and stressed the need to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in the region."

Russia has spoken openly against the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq and has vowed to block any attempt by Washington and its allies to win subsequent U.N. blessing for military action.

Putin had earlier expressed concern for mounting casualty figures in Iraq as U.S. and British forces move on Baghdad.

"The number of casualties is growing on both sides. This could not but cause our pity," Putin told ministers in the Kremlin.

In televised comments, Putin called on both sides to abide by international laws on the treatment of prisoners of war.

Diplomatic disagreements over Iraq have dealt a severe blow to thawing U.S.-Russia ties. In the most recent development, the White House accused Russian firms of selling Iraq defence equipment banned under U.N. sanctions. Moscow denies the claims, but has vowed to investigate U.S. evidence.

--SPA 2149 Local Time 1849 GMT

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