Medvedev slams 'extremists' over Russia protests
President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday accused "extremists" of seeking to manipulate Russians and warned against foreign interference, after a wave of protests against the conduct of elections.
"Attempts to manipulate Russian citizens, lead them astray and incite strife in society are unacceptable," he said in an address to the nation two days ahead of a new opposition protest expect to rally tens of thousands.
"We will not allow provocateurs and extremists to drag society into their schemes," he said, adding: "We will not allow interference from outside in our internal affairs."
"Russia needs democracy and not chaos. There needs to be faith in the future and fairness," said Medvedev.
Medvedev's annual address to both houses of parliament comes after December 4 parliamentary elections that showed an unexpectedly sharp dip in support for the ruling party and were followed by mass protests against vote-rigging.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets a week after the elections to protest the conduct of the polls, in the biggest show of popular discontent in Russia since the turbulent 1990s.
Almost 40,000 people have vowed on Facebook to attend a new protest in Moscow on Saturday which the authorities have allowed to go ahead but will watch nervously for any signs the protest wave is intensifying.
The president sought to show he was in favour of protests, so long as they were within the framework of the law.
"We understand criticism and accept criticism with respect. The right of people to express their position with all legal means is guaranteed," Medvedev said.
"The fact that society is changing and citizens are more actively expressing their positions and making demands on the authorities is a good sign. It is a good tendency that will benefit our country."
In an apparent nod to the demands of the protestors for more democracy in Russia, he proposed major reform of Russia's political system including the resumption of direct elections for local governors.
"I propose a comprehensive reform of our political system," Medvedev said, proposing the resumption of the direct elections of regional governors abolished by his predecessor Vladimir Putin in 2004.
"I would like to say that I hear those who are talking about political changes, and I understand them. We have to give all active citizens the legal right to participate in political life," he said.
© 2011 AFP