Russia church head warns against Internet before rally


(Reuters) – The leader of Russia’s Orthodox Church warned Russians Friday against trusting social networking sites, which have spearheaded the organization of mass opposition protests, saying they made people “vulnerable to manipulation.”

Some 40,000 people have signed up on Internet sites to attend a protest in central Moscow Saturday against a disputed election parliamentary election which earlier this month gave Vladimir Putin’s ruling party a slim majority.

“The naive confidence of a modern person in the information available on social networks along with the moral disorientation and the loss of basic (moral) values make our cohorts … vulnerable to manipulation,” Patriarch Kirill was reported as saying to Interfax news agency.

He made no specific reference to the rally, where Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and opposition blogger Alexei Navalny are to speak. The rally is expected to add pressure on Prime Minister Putin, who has responded with only minor concessions and who is widely expected to win a presidential election in 2012.

Patriarch Kirill also said political change alone could not transform society, it could only happen with a “metamorphosis of the soul.”

Endorsed by Kremlin leaders as Russia’s main faith, the Church has grown increasingly powerful since communism fell two decades ago. Its role has drawn criticism from human rights groups who say it undermines Russia’s separation between religion and state.

The Internet has been vital for organizing protests in the country of more than 140 million, where state television is tightly controlled and has paid little attention to the biggest opposition rallies since Putin rose to power in 1999.

Opposition leaders have said they hope at least 50,000 people will attend Saturday’s rally in Moscow, the second major demonstration since the December 4 election.

International monitors said the poll was slanted in favor of Putin and marred by indications of ballot stuffing.

(Reporting By Thomas Grove; Editing by Matthew Jones)