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UPDATE 1-Putin backs BP's sale plan for TNK-BP - FT

(Adds Fridman comment, detail)

LONDON/MOSCOW, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Russian president VladimirPutin backs BP's plan to sell its 50 percent stake inTNK-BP to state oil group Rosneft , theFinancial Times reported on Wednesday, citing an interview withRosneft Chief Executive Igor Sechin.

Putin, who returned to the Kremlin for a six-yearpresidential term in May, dominates the country's powerhierarchy and investors are watching for a political signal thatRosneft will receive his blessing to buy into TNK-BP.

Such a deal would require formal government approval,however, and some senior officials have opposed the transaction,saying that state business should not further encroach into theworld's ninth-largest economy.

Sechin said Putin had endorsed the idea - which could alsoinclude BP taking a stake in Rosneft - at a meeting in Russialast month with BP's top executives.

"(Rosneft) will have the opportunity to acquire a strategicinvestor ... so we do support this, and the president also spokein support of this," Sechin, a long-standing confidant andadviser to Putin, was quoted as saying.

Sechin said, however, that Putin stressed it was ultimately"up to BP shareholders" to decide on the deal.

"Considering the fact that Rosneft is a strategic company... the main parameters of the deal have to be agreed with thepresidential administration," he said.

BP's four billionaire partners in TNK-BP - Mikhail Fridman,German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik - who initiallywanted to buy BP out of the venture, have told the British firmthey may instead sell their half of the $50 billion business.

In so doing, the four (who are grouped in a consortiumcalled AAR) signalled their unwillingness to work alongsideRosneft, the listed oil company with the world's top oilresources.

With AAR now putting its own stake up for sale, BP has theright under a shareholder agreement to a 45-day exclusivityperiod in which AAR may not consider bids from other potentialbuyers.

Asked on Wednesday whether AAR may sell its stake in TNK-BPbefore BP does, Fridman told reporters: "Everything ispossible".

The divorce is the results of a protracted feud between BPand AAR after the latter blocked BP's attempt to partner withRosneft last year in the courts.

(Reporting by Stephen Mangan and Polina Devitt; Writing byVladimir Soldatkin; Editing by David Holmes)

((stephen.mangan@thomsonreuters.com)(+44 0 20 7542 7931))

Keywords: BP TNKBP/ROSNEFT