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Russian Church leader warns protests could lead to bloodshed

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church on Monday criticised last week’s unprecedented anti-government protests, warning of potential bloodshed fomented via the Internet.

“The mood of the masses is being formed nowadays by information technology…. We know how far it can go in some countries where blood is being shed again,” Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, said in a statement published on his website.

He said he wanted to prevent people from getting involved in “actions that could destroy human lives.”

The statement is the Russian Church’s first official reaction to nationwide protests against the results of the December 4 legislative polls, which were criticised by the opposition, international observers and the West.

The Patriarch called on the authorities to hold “dialogue” without directly mentioning allegations by the opposition that polls won by the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party were marred by massive fraud.

Several priests, however, have denounced electoral violations they claim to have personally witnessed.

The Russian Orthodox Church has close ties to the authorities, despite the division of church and state enshrined in the Constitution, with the Russian leaders often photographed taking part in church services.

Another opposition protest, organised like the massive protests on December 10 through social networking sites, is planned in Moscow on Saturday, with permission from the city hall.