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Controversial Russia lawmaker to lead ultra-nationalist party

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A Russian lawmaker accused by several journalists and the spokeswoman of the foreign ministry of sexual harassment was elected Friday chairman of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party.

The election took place after the death of the Kremlin-friendly party’s longtime leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

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“Leonid Slutsky was unanimously elected 86-0 the new chairman of LDPR,” the party said in a statement on messaging app Telegram.

Slutsky, the head of parliament’s international affairs committee and a senior member of Moscow’s team of negotiators with Ukraine, was the only candidate for the post.

In 2018, several women journalists and the spokeswoman of the foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, accused Slutsky, 54, of sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual conduct.

The journalists, including Farida Rustamova who at the time worked for the BBC’s Russian service, accused Slutsky of making lewd sexual comments and groping, breaking the silence on a subject that remains largely taboo in Russia.

Slutsky at the time labelled the claims as “cheap, low-grade provocation” and dismissed them as a political attack ordered by his enemies. He even said the scandal “boosted my gravitas rather than took it away.”

His name was later cleared by a parliamentary ethics panel and he remained in office.

On Friday, Slutsky said the party’s strategy “will be somehow modified, will grow toward the people, toward strengthening our social policies,” state news agency TASS reported.

LDPR holds 21 of 450 seats in the lower house State Duma after receiving 7.55 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 2021.

Zhirinovsky had been a permanent fixture on the Russian political scene for the past three decades.

Often described as a clown in Russian political circles, he was known for his fiery anti-American, anti-liberal and anti-communist speeches.

He had co-founded and led the LDPR, one of main forces in the country’s rubber stamp parliament, since 1990.

Late last year, Zhirinovsky appeared to predict Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine and urged Russian authorities to bomb the pro-Western country.

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