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Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel spar over jailed protesters


Vladimir Putin fired back at the visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel for raising questions about the imprisonment of the Pussy Riot protesters, suggesting she was poorly informed about the punk group's true nature.

The exchange, at a Russian-German business forum in Moscow, came amid growing German criticism of Russia's human rights record and its moves to crack down on dissent. Germany's parliament passed a resolution last week that linked Russia's rollback of democratic freedoms to Mr Putin's return to the presidency in May and urged the German government to take a tougher stance in dealing with Russia.

At the forum, Ms Merkel raised cautious criticism of the two-year prison sentences imposed on two members of Pussy Riot for a performance in Moscow's main cathedral entreating the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Mr Putin.

"Whether it was necessary to send two girls to [prison] camp, I don't know," Ms Merkel said.

Mr Putin then asked whether Ms Merkel knew that one of the women had previously taken part in a performance-art demonstration where several dolls representing migrant workers and homosexuals – one of them also identified as Jewish – were hung from nooses.

The 2008 demonstration was actually in support of those groups, but Mr Putin interpreted it differently.

"We cannot support, with you, people who take an anti-Semitic position," Mr Putin said.