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Vladimir Putin mocks Moscow protesters, says they were paid

In 4.5-hour live TV show, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he thought protest ribbons were condoms. Putin also suggested Moscow street protesters were paid to be there.

By Timothy Heritage and Steve GuttermanReuters / December 15, 2011

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin listens to a question during a national call-in TV show in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011.

(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, pool)



Vladimir Putin Putin offered to ease slightly his tight political control of Russian politics in token concessions to protesters he suggested had been paid to turn out in the biggest demonstrations since he took power 12 years ago.

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In a 4-1/2 hour call-in question-and-answer show that was broadcast live across Russia and intended to rebuild support as he prepares to reclaim the presidency, the long-serving prime minister sought to portray himself as a reasonable, even-handed national leader who can unite his people.

But many Russians on the social network Twitter suggested his efforts had failed, saying the 59-year-old former spy was out of touch three months before the presidential election he hopes to win.

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Breaking his silence on rallies by tens of thousands of people on Dec. 10 Putin mixed words of praise with suggestions that some of the demonstrators complaining of electoral fraud and demanding a new election were paid to show up.

"I saw on people on the TV screens ... mostly young people, active and with positions that they expressed clearly," Putin said. "This makes me happy, and if that is the result of the Putin regime, that's good -- there's nothing bad about it."

"They will at least make some money," he said, without saying who he thought might have been the paymaster. Putin has in the past, to the derision of opponents, suggested the United States had stirred protests and foreign states had funded them.

Putin, 59, said that at first he thought the white ribbons worn by the protesters as a sign of dissent were part of an anti-AIDS campaign, and he had mistaken them for condoms.

A doctored photo was soon doing the rounds on the Internet, with Putin wearing a condom on his chest instead of a medal

Dressed in a suit and tie at a large desk as he took questions by phone and from a studio audience, and sometimes via videolinks with cities across the vast country, he also looked less at ease than in previous years.

Putin, broaching the possibility of changes in a tightly controlled political system, suggested legislation might be latered to allow small opposition parties to be registered.

One of Putin's main acts after taking power in 1999 was to remove elected governors in Russia's regions and appoint his own representatives, restoring strong Kremlin control. This he said headed off a danger of the world's biggest country breaking up.

Putinhinted at reintroducing direct elections, but only after the president had approved candidates proposed by parties -- an idea scarcely likely to win support from critics.

"We can move in this direction," he said.

Putin gave no indication he would respond to the protesters' main demands such as sacking the central election commission chief and rerunning the election which returned Putin's United Russia party with a reduced majority.

He appears to be intent instead on riding out the protests and hoping they fade, although another day of protest is planned by the opposition on Dec. 24.

"That's it. It's the end. Putin is completely out of touch. And this is becoming more obvious to everyone. You had to think hard to insult the people like this," wrote one person who identified himself as Oleg Kozyrev.

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