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Chief of Russian Olympic construction corp. resigns - 2

(Adds expert response in paras 7-10, background in paras 14-16)

MOSCOW, April 17 (RIA Novosti) - The head of the Russian corporation overseeing the construction of sport and infrastructure facilities for the 2014 Winter Olympics has resigned.

Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said on Thursday he had signed a resolution to relieve Semyon Vainshtok, an influential businessman, of his duties as head of Olympstroi at his own request, while also praising his performance at the post.

The premier has appointed Viktor Kolodyazhny, mayor of the host city Sochi, to replace Vainshtok.

Vainshtok, former president of oil pipeline monopoly Transneft, said he resigned after fulfilling his task of creating the corporation. "I have fulfilled the obligations I took on," he said.

Echoing the statement, the regional development minister told reporters it was a planned replacement.

"There is nothing unexpected in it. This is a planned replacement," Dmitry Kozak said adding Vainshtok, 60, had resigned as he planned to retire.

However, observers suggested Vainshtok had resigned over major problems facing the project. They also said his resignation would send a worrying signal to an International Olympic Committee (IOC) delegation, which will arrive in Sochi next week.

The World Wildlife Fund chief in Russia, Igor Chestin, said Vainshtok's departure could cause delays in the Olympic construction projects.

Ivan Blokov, campaign director of Greenpeace Russia, said Vainshtok quit to avoid responsibility for the unrealistic project.

"I think he quit after realizing that he is not able to build Olympic venues on funds allocated and within the timeframe set," Blokov said.

Vainshtok was appointed by President Vladimir Putin to oversee the ambitious project to build a total of 243 sporting venues and infrastructure facilities, mainly from scratch, in the Black Sea resort city, in September.

In March, Vainshtok said preparations for the Games would cost taxpayers three times the sum earmarked by the government, according to Russian media reports. He said 316 billion rubles ($13 billion) needed to be invested in transport infrastructure alone.

Putin, who vigorously campaigned to secure the country's victory as an Olympic bidder, earlier pledged $12 billion to prepare the city for the Olympics.

Environmentalists have been protesting against developers' plans for Sochi, warning they could damage the unique landscape of the North Caucasus, where some territories are protected as natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Authorities said a number of sports facilities could be moved and new roads and power lines built, the changes that could increase the cost of the project.

Critics have also predicted that authorities and organizers will use the opportunity to embezzle government funds.

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