Notebook's positive portrayal of dictator Stalin sparks row

The front cover of the notebook featuring a portrait of Stalin
The notebooks featuring Stalin are proving popular with Russians

School notebooks featuring a portrait of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin have sparked controversy since going on sale this week.

Sales of the notebooks, which show Stalin wearing full military uniform and numerous medals, have been brisk.

But human rights groups say a man blamed for millions of deaths should not be shown in such a positive way.

The publisher has refused to withdraw the book, which is part of a "Famous Russians" series.

Artyom Belan, art director of the Alt publishing house that produced the notebooks, told Associated Press that he deserved to be included.

"If we do a series of great Russians, should we strike the 20th Century from the list altogether?" he said.

AP says a large store in Moscow specialising in academic books ran out of stocks of the Stalin book on Wednesday.

The books have attracted criticism from the Russian Public Chamber, a government oversight committee.

"When children see this magnificent cover with handsome mustachioed Stalin, they perceive him as a hero," said historian Nikolai Svanidze in a statement seen by AP.

Russian Education Minister Andrey Fursenko said he did not like the books but added that he had no powers to stop their sale.

Stalin ruled the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953, andhistorians sayhe was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people.

But he is also praised for his leadership during World War II, and since Vladimir Putin came to power he has attracted a much more positive portrayal in Russia.