Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has attacked opposition rallies as a "provocation" against the government, in an interview with Kommersant newspaper.
Speaking during a 2,000-kilometer trip in a Russian-made Lada Kalina car in the country's Far East, Putin said opposition movements should abide by the law and apply for official permission to stage rallies.
Permission is seldom granted, however, making most opposition rallies "unsanctioned" by the local authorities, who frequently send riot police to deal with protesters. The authorities regularly suggest alternative venues, but these are usually rejected by the opposition.
"All our opponents are standing up for a lawful state. What is a lawful state? It is abiding by the current law," Putin said. "What does the current law say about an [opposition] march? You should receive a permit from local authorities. You got it? Go out and demonstrate. If not - you don't have any right to. If you went out without a right to do so - you get hit on the head. That's it!" he added.
Putin said he was not aware of the opposition's favored site, Triumfalnaya Square in central Moscow, being closed for reconstruction. The authorities plan to build a multi-storey underground car park there, but the opposition claims this is just another maneuver to prevent protests there.
The opposition movement stages "unsanctioned" March of Dissent rallies on Triumfalnaya Square on the last day of each month with 31 days in honor of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly.
"Believe me: I don't know anything about this! I am not dealing with this. I am speaking in all honesty... Yes, sometimes I heard: they demonstrated on Triumfalnaya Square, they were broken up. I ask: why were they broken up? It is because they were allowed [to demonstrate] at one site but they went to the other. I ask: why did they go to the other site? This I still don't understand," Putin said.
Putin said that by staging unsanctioned rallies, the opposition movements provoke the police to crack down on them. "If their aim is provocation, they will always be successful. But if their aim is to inform the public, both international and Russian, there is no point in... breaking the law," Putin said.
"If the aim is to make the authorities compromise, and they will compromise, there will be other attempts at provocation, and this process will carry on indefinitely," he added.
MOSCOW, August 30 (RIA Novosti)