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Putin foe's media purchase offer rejected

MOSCOW -- The owner of the New Jersey Nets, who is running against Vladimir Putin in Russia's presidential election, tried without success yesterday to buy a leading media holding company in the country.

Mikhail Prokhorov, who is worth about $18 billion according to Forbes magazine, announced his candidacy earlier this week for the March presidential election.

Prokhorov offered to buy the Kommersant publishing house, but its owner, Alisher Usmanov, said he doesn't plan to sell it.

"We're not considering the proposal," Usmanov told reporters. He said he instead offered to buy Prokhorov's stake in the RBK media group, a competitor of Kommersant's.

He did not say how Prokhorov had responded, and it was not immediately possible to reach him.

Usmanov, a metals magnate, bought Kommersant for $200 million in 2006. The holding company, which includes Russia's top business daily and other publications, has since expanded into radio and television broadcast.

On Tuesday, Usmanov fired an editor and a senior manager after the Kommersant Vlast weekly published an article about alleged fraud in Russia's Dec. 4 parliamentary election and a photo of a ballot containing vulgar words directed at Putin. The weekly's editor, Maxim Kovalsky, said he was told that's why he was fired.

Russia's parliamentary election saw a sharp drop in support for Putin's United Russia party, and widespread allegations of ballot-stuffing and other violations. The ballot led last weekend to the largest anti-government protests that Russia had seen since the 1991 collapse of its communist government.

Usmanov said recent reports in Vlast "bordered on petty hooliganism," and Kovalsky's deputy, Veronika Kutsillo, said the offending photo was just a pretext behind the move by Usmanov, who previously had expressed his dissatisfaction with the magazine's contents.

"This isn't merely a punishment of an obstinate editor, it's a signal that the magazine's course must change," Kutsillo said in an email message, adding that she decided to resign.

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