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Russia clears MP accused of sexual harassment

© AFP | A woman holds a sign reading "hands off female journalists" outside parliament in Moscow as the body's ethics commission cleared foreign affairs committee head Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment

MOSCOW (AFP) - 

Russia's parliamentary ethics commission on Wednesday cleared MP Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment, while questioning the motives of the women who accused him.

The accusations from four reporters were seen by some as the belated beginning of a "#MeToo" movement in Russia, but they have not so far sparked any wider change.

"The commission has not found the violations of any rules in Mr Slutsky's behaviour," commission head Otari Arshba told journalists.

"The members of the committee asked many questions, several times they raised the question of what pushed (the women) to speak up during an electoral campaign," he added.

Three of the journalists went public with their accusations, which include making lewd sexual comments and groping, breaking the silence on a subject that remains largely taboo in Russia.

But Slutsky labelled the claims "cheap, low-grade provocation" and dismissed them as a political attack ordered by his enemies. He even said the scandal "boosted my gravitas rather than took it away".

He joked with his colleagues on Facebook about dividing up female journalists, as another MP suggested he could also "take a couple".

He later apologised on International Women's Day for any distress he might "wittingly or unwittingly" have caused.

The foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova afterwards said Slutsky made "unpleasant" comments towards her in a restaurant.

The 50-year-old MP in the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party was widely supported by his colleagues, including the party's leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who accused the women of "receiving orders from the West".

© 2018 AFP