Russian "smear" documentary provokes protests
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A pro-Kremlin documentary alleging Russians were paid to attend the biggest protests against Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule provoked an angry response from the opposition on Friday and the promise of more demonstrations over the weekend.
The opposition said it would stage a rally outside Moscow's Ostankino television broadcast tower on Sunday to protest against the video aired on Thursday on the television station NTV, which is controlled by state-owned gas behemoth Gazprom.
"It is nothing but lies from beginning to the end, an insolent manipulation of the facts," opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said. "All of it (the documentary) was done with money provided under the table by the Kremlin."
The NTV film called "Anatomy of a Protest" suggested two of the organizers of the demonstrations - anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov - had struggled to attract supporters.
The film cut from shots of middle-aged women handing out thousand rouble payments to footage of recent protests, suggesting Russians were paid to attend.
The 36-minute video also hinted demonstrations were funded by the White House with the aim of undermining Putin, who won more than 63 percent of the vote in this month's presidential election.
The 59-year-old prime minister, who is preparing to return to the Kremlin in May, has infuriated protesters by saying the White ribbon symbol of the protests looked like condoms and alleging the opposition was in the pay of foreign governments.
Within hours of the broadcast, hundreds of people left messages on a Facebook page called "Against NTV's Insolent Lies" saying they would attend protests. NTV's website was also attacked by hackers.
Valery Fadeyev, a political scientist who was interviewed for the film, said his quotes had been used out of context.
"I gave NTV commentary for an analytical program, not for propaganda," Fadeyev said.
NTV was once a vibrant liberal news outlet before a midnight raid on its offices after Putin took office in 2000 but is now renown for smear campaigns against those who have fallen foul of the Kremlin.
An NTV spokesperson said the channel planned to repeat the program on Sunday evening, despite the protests and denial of service attack on its servers.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Andrew Heavens)
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