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Germany

Topless protesters assail Putin at Hanover Trade Fair

Three women protesters from the Femen group have disrupted Vladimir Putin's tour of the Hanover Trade Fair with Angela Merkel. The Russian president said afterwards that he had enjoyed their display.

President Vladimir Putin was pragmatic on Monday after three female protesters disrupted his tour of the world's largest industrial trade fair with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The protesters, displaying a greater command of English expletives than grammar with the messages emblazoned on their breasts, referred to the Russian leader as a "dictator," also shouting similar slogans. Bodyguards restrained them and took them away.

"Regarding this performance, I liked it," Putin said in a joint news conference with Merkel, adding "I did not see anything terrible in [the protest], though I think … it is better to be dressed if one wants to discuss political matters."

Putin also said that "without such an action there would be less talk about the show than with such an action."

The protesters represented the women's rights group Femen, which has staged protests around Europe against the detention of the feminist "Pussy Riot" band that posed for scenes in an anti-Putin music video in a Russian cathedral.

Tensions, but not affecting trade

Russia is this year's partner country for the Hanover Trade Fair, which runs through April 12. At an opening ceremony on Sunday, Merkel was also critical of the key German trade partner.

Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in key Russian cities like Moscow and St Petersburg were subject to police raids in recent weeks, including German political foundations like the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

"A vibrant civil society can only emerge when individuals can operate without fear or worry, of course within the confines of the law," Merkel said.

Putin responded by saying that Russia was "monitoring financial flows" going into these organizations, but not closing or forbidding them.

Merkel was also keen to stress that Russia remained an "important strategic partner" for Germany.

Government statistics show that Russia was Germany's tenth-largest trading partner in 2012. Unusually, Germany also spent more on imports from Russia than it earned from exports last year.

msh/ccp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)