Russia fires official over 'push-up humiliation'
The Russian authorities fired a top local official Saturday after a video showed him forcing children to kiss his feet in a gruelling series of push-ups while on a visit to a school.
The Internet video, which harvested tens of thousands of hits on YouTube and has shocked the country, showed the official from the Bashkortostan region of southern Russia barking instructions at the early teens in a school gym.
The spindly children, dressed in basketball vests, struggle to carry out the push-ups as the besuited official extends his foot as a target. "Press harder! One! Two! Kiss the foot!" he is heard shouting.
The leader of Bashkortostan, a mainly Muslim region in the Urals, publicly named the official as the head of the Ermekeyev district, Difkat Khantimerov, and said he has been sacked with immediate effect.
"Yesterday I watched the video on the Internet and it shocked me to my core," said Bashkortostan president Rustem Khamitov in a statement published by Russian news agencies.
"This looks like an outrage, an insult against schoolchildren. I have decided to relieve Difkat Khantimerov from his duties," he added.
Khamitov said he was appalled that the official had stained the reputation of Bashkortostan, a large and important region populated by a mixture of Muslim Bashkirs and Tatars as well as Christian Russians.
The video showed some of the clearly exhausted children barely able to complete a single push-up as the official sternly carries on shouting at them to kiss his black shoe and then his hand.
Russian media reports said the incident occurred while Khantimerov was on a visit to the main school in the Ermekeyev district to mark a sporting festival and take part in training with the boys.
Footage of the video is viewable on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XixpWlDvdVs.
The video was apparently recorded by a parent or another onlooker in late spring but became a national scandal after it became a major YouTube hit and was then broadcast on state television this weekend.
"This is another case of cruel treatment of children," President Dmitry Medvedev's childrens' envoy Pavel Astakhov told state television. "It does not matter if they are athletes. They are children."
"We have reached a stage in our development where people must understand that those in positions of authority must carry out their duty and not abuse their powers and damage the health of children," he added.
Russia has traditionally taken a tough approach to education with strict militaristic methods dating back to the Soviet Union but in recent years the authorities have worked hard to encourage a more caring line.
The top childrens' official for Bashkortostan, Lilia Gumerova, told the Interfax news agency that she had visited the school on Friday and spoken to the parents and children involved.
"They confirmed that Khantimerov forced the children to do push ups with the order 'Kiss the foot'," she said.
"Of course, no one has died and no one has been injured. But the children has suffered a moral damage and no money... can make up for that," she said.
© 2010 AFP