Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has held his yearly live TV question-and-answer session, delivering damning comments on jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Putin uses the session to answer a wide range of questions
The Russian prime minister has given his annual live question-and-answer television session, entitled "A Conversation with Vladimir Putin," addressing the Russian economy, jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and extremism.
Putin said of the 47-year-old former oil billionaire Khodorkovsky, who is standing trial on charges of stealing over 200 tons of oil from his own wells, that a “thief must be in prison.”
"We must operate based on the fact that Mr. Khodorkovsky's guilt has been proven in court," Putin said.
Khodorkovsky is awaiting delivery of a verdict, which has been delayed until December 27.
Since his incarceration, Khodorkovsky has been Russia's highest-profile inmate. He has been an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, and particularly of Putin.
The former oil billionaire, who was a major shareholder in failed petroleum company Yukos, is already serving an eight-year sentence for tax evasion, which is set to expire in 2011. If found guilty of the fresh charges, he could face an additional six years in prison.
Putin showcases himself
The marathon question-and-answer program, which has lasted up to four hours in the past, has become a winter feature, with Putin answering questions ranging from foreign policy to his early sex life.
In this year's edition, the former president also fielded a question on ethnic clashes in Moscow last week, which left more than 30 people injured and raised doubts about the Kremlin's ability to stem a rising tide of xenophobia.
"There is a need to suppress all the manifestations of extremism on all sides," Putin said. "There should be an order," he said. "We are children of one country.
"Society, including liberal society, must understand that there must be order and one must support the government now in power in order to support the interests of the majority," he added
Putin also addressed the Russian economy, which he said would grow by up to four percent this year, with an increase in real incomes thanks to pension increases.
"In the first half of 2012 we should get back to the pre-crisis level (of gross domestic product)," he said.
Author: Darren Mara (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold