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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A ban on Russia's Paralympic team competing in Rio next month is cynical and immoral, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, but he said that Moscow acknowledged mistakes it had made in tackling sports doping.
Russia's track-and-field team was excluded from the Rio Games that just ended after world anti-doping authorities alleged Moscow ran a state-sponsored sports doping programme. The entire Russian Paralympic team has also been barred over the same doping allegations.
At a Kremlin ceremony to welcome home Russian athletes who had competed in the Rio Games, Putin said international anti-doping organisations had singled out Russia for harsh treatment because they were subject to political pressure.
Russia's Olympic team finished this month's Games in Rio in fourth place according to the total number of gold medals it won. Putin said the result could have been better if a third of Russian competitors had not been excluded.
"I used to say this before ... and I still believe that these international anti-doping structures ... should be rid of political pressure," Putin told Russian Olympians in an emotional speech in a gilded Kremlin hall.
Putin said the decision to bar Russian athletes, including those who had not tested positive for any banned substances, was a vivid manifestation "of how the humanistic foundations of sport and Olympism are shamelessly flouted by politics".
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Tuesday that Russia had lost its appeal against a ban from next month's Rio Paralympics.
"The decision to disqualify our Paralympic team is outside the law, outside morality and outside humanity," Putin said.
"It is simply cynical to vent one's anger on those for whom sport has become the meaning of their life... I even feel pity for those taking such decisions because they must well understand that it is so demeaning for them."
Putin said that Russia acknowledged its mistakes and was striving to improve its anti-doping structures "in the most transparent way".
"But ... we don't accept and we can't accept any accusations against our athletes if they are not proven by evidence and facts ... and we will view this as manipulation."
Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Maria Kiselyova