The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has used a televised Christmas appearance to urge Russia's government to "correct the course" in the wake of street protests alleging widespread fraud in recent national elections.
Speaking in a televised interview marking Orthodox Christmas, Patriarch Kirill warned that ignoring the will of protesters was a "bad sign."
"The main thing is that protests, expressed properly, lead to corrections of the political course," Kirill said. "This is the main thing. If the authorities remain insensitive to protests, this is a very bad sign -- a sign of the authorities' inability to adjust. The authorities should adjust themselves, among other things, by perceiving signals from outside."
Tens of thousands of Russians have demonstrated since December 4 national elections to express displeasure with Russia's leadership and protest the conduct of the voting for a new State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.
Kirill added a blunt appeal that he addressed to both sides of the current political divide.
"This is the main message to the authorities and the main message to the people -- they need to be able to express disagreement, not to yield to provocations and not to destroy the country," Kirill said. "We've fully exhausted the capacity for disunity. We have no more right to disunite. And the authorities should correct the course through dialogue and listening to society."
Organizers have sought to harness frustration over persistent corruption and the announcement that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intends to return to the presidency, where he served two terms from 1999-2008 but was barred by the constitution from a third consecutive term.
Another major demonstration is planned for February 4, one month ahead of the election for a six-year presidential term. Putin is the presumed front-runner in that contest.
based on agency and RFE/RL reports