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Putin and wife announce divorce

Russian president Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila have announced they are divorcing.

The Putins, who were married just a few weeks short of 30 years ago, announced the decision on state television after attending a ballet performance in the Kremlin.

"It was our joint decision," Mr Putin said.

Lyudmila Putin was rarely seen in public during her husband's long tenure at the top of Russian politics. "I don't like publicity and flying is difficult for me," she said.

The Putins married on July 28 1983 and have two daughters, Maria and Yekaterina. In the televised announcement of their divorce, Mr Putin appeared reserved and Lyudmila smiled tentatively.

"We practically never saw each other. To each his own life," Mr Putin said.

Mrs Putin said: "We will eternally be very close people. I'm thankful to Vladimir Vladimirovich that he supports me."

There were no immediate indications of how the move would be perceived by the public. Divorce is common in Russia, and nearly 700,000 couples dissolved their marriages in 2009, according to Unicef.

Russian leaders, unlike their counterparts in the West, generally keep their personal lives well out of public view. Mikhail Gorbachev's wife Raisa raised many Russians' hackles by her visibility, flair for fashionable dress and forthright comments.

But Mr Putin also has made a point of supporting traditional social values and appearing at holiday masses of the Orthodox Church. The church permits divorce under some circumstances but it is not clear if the Putins sought pastoral advice or permission before the split.

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