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Russian opposition enraged at smear documentary

Activists in Russia’s protest movement against Vladimir Putin on Friday furiously criticised a documentary aired on a national channel that claimed the opposition bribed people to attend rallies.

The film, called “Anatomy of a Protest” aired late Thursday on NTV, one of Russia’s popular television channels, alleging the opposition handed out money and free food to those attending mass rallies against Putin.

The opposition held a series of mass rallies in Moscow after December’s fraud-tainted parliamentary polls, with as many as 100,000 protesters, although the latest rally after Putin’s victory this month had a much smaller turnout.

Combining jerky secret-camera footage, washed-out faces and an ominous voiceover, the 36-minute film claimed the opposition aimed to foment a bloody revolution without wide public support.

NTV, which is nominally private but owned by the media arm of state gas giant Gazprom, has previously made similar specials about the opposition, claiming they were foreign spies.

The latest documentary alleged that opposition leader Alexei Navalny hacked into a social networking group for fans of US series “Friends”, renaming it “Navalny’s Army” in an attempt to claim he has a wide following.

One of those interviewed in the documentary, a well-known Putin supporter and magazine editor Valery Fadeyev, complained his remarks were twisted in the editing and taken out of context.

His magazine Expert called the film a “cheap propagandist work directed against Russia’s opposition” and vowed never to work with the channel again.

In the most serious allegation, the documentary showed a crowd of about a hundred people gathering near a metro station, apparently after a February 26 opposition rally, and an organiser handing them 1,000 ruble ($34) bills.

A popular blogger and prominent campaigner for fair elections, Rustem Adagamov, claimed on his blog that the documentary makers used actors to film the scene.

“All of this really happened… but it was organised by the people filming this libel for Russian television,” Adagamov wrote, citing a report on a popular citizen journalism website Ridus.ru.

Bloggers reworked the channel’s three-letter Russian acronym to read “Violence. Stupidity. Lies” and activists announced a Sunday picket of the channel’s offices, with more than 700 signing up on Facebook.

Others said they were preparing a collective lawsuit against the channel for libel.

NTV said its website briefly went offline on Friday, blaming a hacker attack which it linked to the documentary.

Not deterred by the angry reaction, the channel vowed to air the film again, this time in a primetime slot on Sunday evening.

“This film is not the first nor the last,” said head of the liberal party Yabloko Sergei Mitrokhin. “It’s in the style of pure Soviet propaganda, of totalitarian propaganda.”

The latest documentary “will have an effect on a certain part of the population that has no other source of information,” he told AFP, alleging it was made on “direct orders of the Kremlin.”