Russian president Vladimir Putin has spoken about reports of the persecution of gay men in Chechnya for the first time, promising to “talk” to law enforcement authorities.

Mr Putin told Russia’s human rights ombusdman Tatiana Moskalkova on Friday that he would tell to Russia’s prosecutor general and interior minister to support her request to investigate “the well-known information, or rumours, you could say, about what’s happening in the North Caucasus with people of non-traditional sexual orientation.”

The comments were Mr Putin’s first reaction to shocking reports in Russian and international media that authorities in Chechnya, a war-torn, mostly Muslim province in the north Caucasus, had systematically rounded up and tortured over 100 gay men, killing at least three. Representatives for Ramzan Kadyrov, the warlord’s son who essentially rules Chechnya as a personal fiefdom with Mr Putin’s blessing, have denied that any gay men exist in Chechnya at all, and claim they would have been murdered by their relatives if they did.

Some gay Chechens have fled the province for Moscow and foreign countries in recent months, according to reports in the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The author of the article also said she would leave the country after receiving threats.

Ms Moskalkova asked Mr Putin to set up a working group that would deal with the problem from Moscow, rather than in Chechnya, where much of law enforcement is considered loyal to Mr Kadyrov foremost.

German chancellor Angela Merkel publicly urged Mr Putin to intervene after meeting him in Sochi on Tuesday. The US and other European governments have also condemned the reports.

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