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    Thieves, spies, extremists - Putin speaks to the nation (Wrapup)

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    In his longest annual televised Q&A session, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin tackled issues ranging from state-sponsored assassinations to the fate of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

    In his longest annual televised Q&A session, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin tackled issues ranging from state-sponsored assassinations to the fate of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

    In a vintage performance, the former president and KGB officer broke last year's record by 24 minutes, speaking for a total of four hours and 26 minutes. He fielded 90 questions, 31 of which he had selected himself.

    Twenty-eight questions came from men and 18 from women.


    Putin called for a clampdown on all extremist practices.

    "It is necessary to crack down on any extremist acts," he said.

    The Russian capital saw its biggest public disturbances for almost a decade on Saturday when a 5,000-strong crowd of nationalists and football hooligans clashed with police near Red Square over the death of a Spartak Moscow supporter in a brawl with migrants from the North Caucasus.

    Rioters also attacked people from the country's North Caucasus region during the disorder.

    Putin also stressed that Russia was a "multi-ethnic" state.

    "A person from the Caucasus should not be afraid to go out in the streets of Moscow, and our ethnic Slavic citizens should not be afraid to live in North Caucasus republics," he added.


    Putin said that criticism of the country's police was often justified, but that officers performed "important" work.

    "We, with justification, criticize law enforcement agencies a lot, and serious reforms being carried out in this sphere are not accidental. But we should not tar everyone with the same brush," he said.

    "We should understand that they perform an important duty in the state and we should not humiliate them," he said, adding that "otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave their beards, put helmets on and go to the squares to fight radicals."

    The prime minister's remarks came amid concerns over police brutality. In an attempt to improve the image of law enforcement agencies, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a large-scale police reform in December 2009, including cutting the number of policemen and increasing salaries.


    Putin assured the nation that GDP would return to pre-crisis levels by the first half of 2012.

    "A number of experts have said that GDP will reach pre-crisis levels by the end of 2012, and other experts say it will happen by the end of 2011," Putin said. "I believe, that the truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle."

    Putin described this year's GDP growth of 3.8 percent as "satisfactory." Before the crisis, Russia's GDP growth averaged 7%.


    Putin said that thieves belong in jail when asked about former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is facing new charges of money laundering and embezzlement.

    Referring to a line from the Soviet film "The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed," Putin said: "I think that a thief should be in jail."

    Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, who have already spent seven years behind bars for tax evasion, are facing new charges of embezzling 218 tons of oil from Khodorkovsky's former oil firm Yukos and laundering over 3 billion rubles ($97.5 million) in revenues. If found guilty, the two men face another seven years in jail.

    Moscow's Khamovniki district court has postponed the announcement of the verdict in the new trial until December 27. The announcement of the verdict was originally planned to begin on December 15. The reasons for postponement were not disclosed.

    "Our courts are the most humane in the world," Putin concluded in a tongue-in-cheek quote from another Soviet-era film.


    The Russian security services do not carry out the murder of "traitors", Putin said.

    "The Russian security services do not use such methods," he said in response to a question as to whether he had even given orders to eliminate enemies of the state.

    Putin said that it is no secret that some foreign security services practiced assassinations, giving Israel's Mossad as an example.

    Referring to July's spy row between Moscow and Washington, when 10 Russian spies were arrested in the United States after an alleged intelligence officer's betrayal, Putin said traitors had no future.

    "Just think of it. A person sacrificed his life and then some scum pops up to betray his people. Swine!" Putin added.


    On a personal note, Putin unveiled the secret of his good fortune.

    A student from Siberia reminded Putin that Russia won the bids to host the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup and asked if the prime minister was really "so lucky."

    Putin said, "Yes" and tried to explain the secret of his luck.

    "One should work [hard], and first of all work with people, show respect for them and prove competence and do it persistently, but tactfully," the premier said.

    "As you see, we have been a success until now and hopefully will be a success in the future," he said.

    MOSCOW, December 16 (RIA Novosti)

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