What happened to Putin? Satirists run riot online
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A wave of savage mockery broke over Russian President Vladimir Putin across the Internet on Friday, sparked by days of absence from public view, despite official insistence it was business as usual in the Kremlin.
State television footage of Putin working at his residence failed to quell the tide of fantastical theories circulating online that the 62-year-old Kremlin leader had died, been deposed, or traveled to Switzerland to watch his girlfriend give birth.
Ukrainian children produced a cartoon showing Putin abducted from the Kremlin by aliens.
The hashtag #putinumer (putin died) began trending on Twitter, and a website, putinumer.com, offered readers advice on how to gauge whether the rumors were true.
"Look out the window," it advised. "Are people rejoicing, dancing, letting off fireworks? No? That means he hasn't died yet."
Putin is normally ubiquitous in state media, but his silence in the past week has fed rumors of a threat to his grip on power. While hard facts are scarce, there has been speculation of a split between rival Kremlin camps since the killing of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov near Red Square on Feb. 27.
"Putin has died on purpose to distract attention from the murder of Nemtsov", tweeted Putin#Vor (Putin#Thief).
A Ukrainian website carried a cartoon of Putin lying alongside Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in his Red Square mausoleum, and mocked-up pictures of Putin on his deathbed or lying in an open coffin.