A topless demonstrator with written messages on her back walks towards Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R)
Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed off a protest against him by topless women in Germany on Monday, joking that he liked what he had seen while sharply rebuffing German criticism of his human rights record.
Three members of the women's rights group Femen, which has staged protests against Russia's detention of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot around Europe, disrupted his visit to a trade fair in the German city of Hanover focusing on Russian business.
They stripped to the waist and shouted slogans calling the Russian leader a "dictator" before being covered up and bundled away by security men, reports The Associated Press.
"Regarding this performance, I liked it," grinned Putin at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, adding that it had helped to promote the trade fair though he suggested that the security men could have been "gentler".
"I did not catch what they were shouting, I did not even see if they were blondes, brunettes or chestnut-haired ... I don't see anything terrible in (the protest), though I think ... it is better to be dressed if one wants to discuss political matters."
Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the protesters of "hooliganism" and said they should be punished.
Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, said people in a free society had the right to protest.
Putin and Merkel, who also held talks in Hanover on Sunday, want to further boost booming economic ties but the German leader also repeated her concerns about human rights in Russia after raids by Russian authorities on German and other non-governmental organizations based in the country.
A new law on NGOs requires them to register as "foreign agents" if they have foreign funding and are deemed to be involved in politics, something many prominent groups have refused to do on the grounds that they are not acting on behalf of other nations and are not trying to influence Russian politics.
For many, the term evokes Soviet-era oppression and Cold War espionage.