By DAVID STRINGER and TIM REYNOLDS
They held talks, then it ended in a fight.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin showed up Thursday at the Olympic judo competition after meeting in central London on Syria and trade.
The two leaders, who have squared off over the world’s response to the violence in Syria, traveled in separate cars to see judo contests at the ExCel Centre in east London.
It’s not a stretch to describe Putin _ an honorary president of the International Judo Federation _ as the world’s best-known judo fan. Putin has been a judo competitor since his childhood, eventually gaining the rank of black belt.
Military officers and uniformed police lined either side of the VIP entrances to the judo arena as they arrived and photographers turned their backs to the competition to make sure to grab the moment. Putin and Cameron were joined by Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, himself a judo aficionado who holds a blue belt.
In a 45-minute meeting earlier at Cameron’s Downing Street residence, the British leader pushed Putin over Russia’s refusal to back a tough new U.N. resolution that tries to halt the violence in Syria between President Bashar Assad’s regime and anti-government rebels. Britain called the decision by Russia and China to veto a U.N. resolution on Syria two weeks ago “inexcusable and indefensible.”
Their talks came before Kofi Annan said he would step down as the U.N. and Arab League special envoy on Syria amid the diplomatic gridlock.
While no breakthrough with Russia on Syria had been expected, Putin said the two leaders had noted that “there are some things that we see eye-to-eye on” over Syria.
Cameron said _ despite the differences _ both nations wanted to see an end to the bloodshed in Syria, where thousands have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.
Turning to an easier subject, Putin praised the London Olympics opening ceremony, which he described as “unforgettable.”
Relations between Britain and Russia soured over the 2006 poisoning death of dissident ex-Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Litvinenko made a deathbed statement accusing Putin of authorizing his killing. Russia has refused repeated British requests for the extradition of the chief suspect in the case, ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, who denies any involvement.
The visit comes as leading British musicians joined an international outcry over the treatment of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose members were jailed following a protest in Moscow’s main cathedral.
The musicians said in an open letter Thursday that the band members were involved in legitimate protest and should not be facing up to seven years in jail for their actions. They said “dissent is a right in any democracy.”
Cameron raised the case with Putin, but neither leader commented on their discussion.