Putin vows to fight extremism after racist riots
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called extremism a "virus" Thursday and vowed to fight all its forms in a bid to avert the return of racist riots that have shaken Moscow in recent days.
"Russia must suppress all manifestations of extremism, on all sides, wherever they may come from," Putin said in a regular question-and-answer session with the Russian people.
"We should not be painting people from the Caucasus or people of other nationalities with the same broad strokes," the Russian prime minister said in the nationally televised comments.
Putin's remarks came a day after the police detained more than 1,000 youths in Moscow and other cities in a nation-wide security sweep aimed at staving off ethnic riots from erupting following the deadly shooting of a football fan by a Muslim suspect.
The incidents underscored the delicate state of the country's ethnic relations and the numerous problems that it faces as it comes under the international spotlight for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup.
Putin stressed that every country has ethnic problems and Russia's were no different from those of anyone else.
But he argued that Russia was a young country that was only learning how to handle problems as sensitive as race.
"This bacillus, it is always present in society -- just like viruses exist in everyone organisms," Putin said.
"If a person has good immunity, these viruses never develop. And the same thing with society -- if society's immune system is strong, if society is mature, then these bacilli of nationalism, radicalism -- they will just sit there quietly, at cell level, and not stick their necks out."
But the wave of unrest has also exposed the security challenges that Russia must handle as it prepares to host hundreds of thousands of global guests in cities that rarely receive the attention of tourists.
Security officials' heavy-handed handling of previous demonstrations -- particularly those staged by the opposition -- has come under heavy criticism from Russian human rights groups and Western countries.
Police inaction was also blamed for Saturday's 5,000-strong riot near the Kremlin. But Putin defended his force and even sniped at the "liberal intelligentsia" for voicing such complaints.
"We must understand that these law enforcement authorities are performing a vital function for the state, and that their work should not be ridiculed," he said.
The latest wave of rallies and riots have been organised by young people who gravitate to their favorite feeds on Twitter and the other social media sites.
Kremlin-linked lawmakers have suggested granting the police more authority to monitor such sites and prosecute those who use them to foment hatred and violence.
Putin conceded that the law enforcement authorities must pay closer attention to the Web.
But he refused to blame the Internet for the violence -- saying that there was plenty of blame to go around.
"Of course, one could blame everything on modern means of mass communication, including the Internet," Putin said. "But that it not the only thing."
© 2010 AFP