Putin compares Russia protest symbol to condoms

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Vladimir Putin Thursday said he first thought that the white ribbons worn by Russian protesters as a symbol of their demonstrations against his rule were contraceptives in an anti-AIDS campaign.

"I decided that it was an anti-AIDS campaign... that they pinned on contraceptives, I beg your pardon, only folding them in a strange way," Putin said during his traditional live televised show beamed across Russia.

"I then took a closer look. No. In principle, my first thought was: "okay, they are fighting for a healthy lifestyle."

Putin sought to put a positive spin on a series of protests that shook Russia at the weekend, saying he was pleased to see young people demonstrating.

But he also sought to disparage the rallies, alleging that some of the participants were hired to protest against the government.

"I know that students were paid some money -- well, that's good if they could earn something," he said, adding ordinary Russians should not allow the opposition to humiliate them by pressuring them to participate in the rallies.

Putin earlier accused US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of encouraging the Russian opposition to protest by sending them a signal.

© 2011 AFP

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