Fri, Dec 16, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Putin defends elections in TV phone-in

QUESTION TIME:The Russian prime minister said he welcomed the protests and he would put cameras on ballot boxes, while also lashing out at John McCain

AP, MOSCOW

A customer stands next to TV screens during the broadcast of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in session with Russians in Moscow yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday accused the organizers of massive protests against vote fraud of working to weaken Russia at the West’s behest in blustery remarks likely to further fuel anger against his 12-year rule.

Speaking in a call-in TV show, Putin insisted that the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections, which drew allegations of fraud and triggered the largest protests in Russia in 20 years, were a genuine reflection of the people’s will. He sought to put a good spin on the protests that dented his power and threatened his bid to reclaim presidency in next March’s vote by saying they reflected a rise in public activity that he welcomes.

However, in a characteristic move, he accused protest organizers of working to destabilize the country on orders from the West.

“That’s a well-organized pattern of destabilizing society,” Putin said.

Last week, Putin dismissed criticism of the vote by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as part of US efforts to weaken Russia.

Putin yesterday also alleged that the organizers of Saturday’s demonstration by tens of thousands in Moscow had paid some of its participants and had called them sheep.

He also unleashed his occasional penchant for barbed and crude remarks by dismissing the white ribbons that many of the demonstrators wore.

“When I saw them on TV I thought it was part of campaigning for HIV prophylactics, and they put some contraceptives on,” he said.

The ribbons have been widely adopted symbol of the protests.

The harsh comments and his insistence that the Dec. 4 elections were valid will likely fuel anger and may draw even-bigger crowds in follow-up protests planned for this month.

Putin also lashed out at US Senator John McCain, who had goaded him with a Twitter post saying “the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you,” referring to McCain’s role as a combat pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“He has the blood of peaceful civilians on his hands, and he can’t live without the kind of disgusting, repulsive scenes like the killing of [former Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi,” Putin said.

“Mr McCain was captured and they kept him not just in prison, but in a pit for several years,” Putin said. “Anyone [in his place] would go nuts.”

Putin said the results of Russia’s parliamentary election reflected the people’s will, and that the opposition had alleged vote fraud purely to strengthen its position.

“The results of this election undoubtedly reflect the real balance of power in the country,” he said, speaking on an annual national call-in TV show. “It’s very good that United Russia has preserved its leading position.”

He added that a drop in support for his party was a natural result of the global financial crisis of 2008 that has taken its toll on the country.

United Russia lost about 20 percent of its seats in the election and no longer has the two-thirds majority that allowed it to change Constitution at will in the previous parliament.

United Russia barely retained a majority in the State Duma, and opposition parties and some vote monitors said that even that result was inflated by ballot-stuffing and other violations.

Putin brushed off the vote fraud claims as part of the opposition’s struggle for power, and said that any complaints should go to the courts. He alleged that some of the protest leaders have been acting at Western behest to weaken Russia.

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