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LEAD: Putin dismisses top Olympics official as Sochi countdown begins Eds: Releads after countdown show

Europe
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Moscow (dpa) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed a senior Olympics official for delays in the construction of infrastructure for the 2014 winter Games in Sochi as the official countdown began Thursday.

Putin attended a spectacular show in Sochi to begin the official countdown to the winter Olympics with one year to go before the Games open in the Black Sea resort.

"We have reached a point where the Olympic dreams and hopes begin," Putin said Thursday at the show in Sochi‘s ice dome.

Together with International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, Putin invited the world to take part in the 22nd winter Games which will open February 7 next year.

But the countdown also coincided with Putin‘s decision to dismiss a top Olympics official for delays in the construction of infrastructure for the Games.

Russian Olympics Committee deputy chief Akhmed Bilalov was sacked over delays to the completion of the ski jumping complex, Russian media reported.

"The decision about the sacking has been taken," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told Interfax news agency.

"People who do not carry out their obligations to such an extent cannot lead the Olympic movement of our country."

Putin, who visited the Russkie Gorky ski jump complex on Wednesday, was angered that two of the ski jumps were constructed with a two-year delay and at seven times the estimated costs.

The first winter Games to be staged in Russia has faced soaring costs, now estimated at 37.4 billion euros (50 billion dollars), making them the most expensive Games in history, as well as criticism of human rights violations and huge environmental damage.

Most sports venues and other infrastructure have had to be built from scratch at venues in the Caucasus Mountains and a coastal cluster in Sochi.

The countdown to the Games was meanwhile also marked across the country with the unveiling of special clocks.

In Moscow, a clock some six metres tall and weighing around eight tonnes began the 365-day countdown near the Red Square. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin was joined by Olympic champions Svetlana Zhurova and Ivan Ukhov to set the clock running.

There were similar ceremonies in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Pyatigorsk and Khabarovsk. dpa wo bwh

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