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Vladimir Putin mocks and dismisses protesters

Andrew Osborn Telegraph 12/17/2011 00:20
Vladimir Putin mocks and dismisses protesters - Russia - politics - Vladimir Putin - Europe

Vladimir Putin has mocked the tens of thousands of Russians who have protested against his rule in recent weeks, dismissing his critics as paid-up agents of the West.

In a four-and-a-half-hour televised question and answer session, his longest yet, the Russian prime minister made it clear he was determined to return to the Russian presidency next year and would be making few concessions to his detractors.

"If I see I do not have such support, I will not remain in office for a single day," vowed Mr Putin, explaining he set store only by the ballot box rather than the internet or street protests.

But the former KGB agent said he felt under no pressure to leave politics after a recent upsurge in popular protests against his rule, saying he was too busy learning to play ice hockey to pay much attention to the demonstrations.

"I know that students were paid some money – well, that is good if they could earn something," he joked, referring to the biggest protest of its kind since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union last Saturday when crowds in central Moscow chanted "Russia without Putin."

The protests were triggered by a disputed parliamentary election earlier this month which was easily won by his ruling United Russia party, albeit with a sharply reduced share of the vote.

International monitors ruled the election was marred by ballot-stuffing and the opposition claimed that Mr Putin's party had stolen 13 million votes.

But Mr Putin refuted such criticism and made it clear there would be no rerun of the election, a key opposition demand.