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Putin faces protest furor in Germany, Netherlands

Monday - 4/8/2013, 5:07pm  ET

A topless demonstrator with written messages on her back walks towards Russian President Vladimir Putin , left and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, during the opening tour at the Hannover Fair in Hannover, Germany, Monday April 8, 2013. Several activists stormed the booth of Volkswagen to demonstrate in presence of the politicians. (AP Photo/dpa,Jochen Lurbke)

TOBY STERLING
Associated Press

AMSTERDAM (AP) -- Vladimir Putin faced hundreds of protesters ranging from gay rights activists to a topless feminist group during his visit to Germany and the Netherlands on Monday, but the Russian president appeared unruffled by the furor.

In Hannover, Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Russia's human rights record at a press conference. Then activists from Ukraine's Femen group bared their torsos and ran at him shouting "Putin dictator!" before they were detained.

Putin shrugged off the protest later with what appeared to be a comment on the women's breasts and a swipe at Dutch protesters angry over Russian lawmakers' approval of a bill that bans gay "propaganda."

"I hadn't had time to have breakfast, so I would have liked it more if they showed some sausage or pork fat, not the beauties they showed," he said at a press conference in Amsterdam. "Thank God, the gays didn't strip naked here."

In Amsterdam, more than a thousand gay rights activists picketed outside his meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and rainbow flags around the city flew at half-staff.

Protesters booed and whistled at Putin's arrival at the Amsterdam arm of the Hermitage museum and Amnesty International blanketed the area with satirical signs and police tape proclaiming it a "human rights free zone" during Putin's visit.

The Russian bill makes gay public events and the dissemination of information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000. It still requires final approval by Parliament and would have to be signed by Putin to become law.

Rutte said he had told Putin during their meeting that for the Dutch, gay rights are "inextricably linked with human rights." In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage.

Putin deflected the criticism, claiming that gay rights are not abused in Russia.

"These people, like others, have all rights and freedoms," he said.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia remains strong and authorities routinely ban gay pride parades.

Russia's treatment of gays "is clearly very hotly debated," said Philip Tijsma, spokesman for the Netherlands' largest gay rights organization. "It's not only among the gay community, straight people are also very angry."

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan snubbed any meetings with Putin, saying he had "other commitments."

Putin's visit to the Netherlands was intended to showcase growing economic ties between the two countries. With $83 billion in bilateral trade last year, the Netherlands outpaced Germany to become Russia's No. 1 trading partner in Europe and its second biggest partner in the world after China.

The leaders Monday announced a deal between Gazprom and Royal Dutch Shell PLC to jointly develop gas fields above the Arctic circle in Siberia -- a plan vehemently opposed by Greenpeace.

Amsterdam deputy mayor Andr
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