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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Sidesteps Question About Offensive Rape Remark

President Vladimir Putin, known for his coarse, KGB-style humor, steered clear of off-color remarks Wednesday in his three-hour question-and-answer session.

Instead, the former spy chose to chide reporters for eavesdropping on a conversation last week between him and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"Not nice," the president said of journalists who reported him telling the prime minister that "we all envy" Israeli President Moshev Katsav, suspected of raping female subordinates.

"They have been sent to take a peek," Putin said Wednesday, "not to eavesdrop." He offered no explanation for his rape remarks.

Responding to a question from a Moscow woman seeking a clarification from the president about his rape remarks, Putin said Katsav was under fire because Israelis disapproved of the government's handling of the situation in Lebanon.

Israel and Hezbollah guerillas fought a bitter, month-long war over the summer in southern Lebanon. Israeli media have reported that Moscow sold arms to Syria, which forwarded the materiel to Hezbollah.

Putin appeared to slip when he said that now that has Russia has paid off all its Soviet-era debt to the Paris Club, "Nobody needs us." He quickly corrected himself, saying, "Today, we don't owe anybody."

Turning to lighter subjects, the president said he didn't use a mobile phone because he didn't have time. "I have lots of cell phones, but none of them work," he said.

He wrapped up the session, broadcast live on state-run television, by replying to a boy who asked the president what people should do to ensure their New Year's wishes come true. "You need to believe in the good and demonstrate strength," Putin said.

It was a kinder, gentler performance for a president famous for pledging to wipe out Chechen rebels in an outhouse and suggesting to a French reporter that he get a circumcision that left nothing behind.