Thu, May 04, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Merkel raises rights issues in talks with Putin

CIVIL RIGHTS:Germany’s chancellor said she talked to the Russian president about the persecution of gays in Chechnya and a new ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses

NY Times News Service, MOSCOW

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she leaves after their talks at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday took the opportunity of a rare visit to Russia to raise human rights issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a noted departure from their continuing differences over Ukraine and Syria.

Merkel said she had talked to Putin about her concerns on civil rights in Russia, including, among other issues, the persecution of gay men, a new ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and arrests of anti-Kremlin protesters.

“I have, in my talks with the Russian president, indicated how important is the right to demonstrate in a civil society and how important the role of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] is,” Merkel told a news conference in Sochi, Russia.

“I also spoke about the very negative report about what is happening to homosexuals in Chechnya and asked Mr president to exert his influence to ensure that minorities’ rights are protected,” she added.

Putin hosted her at his residence in Sochi, her first visit to Russia since May 2015.

In terms of other topics during their nearly two-hour meeting, including economic problems, such as sanctions and differences over Ukraine and Syria, there was no indication during the news conference that the two leaders had made any progress.

Germany has repeatedly pressed Russia to fulfill the Minsk peace agreements that are meant to bring an end to the fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

Although Putin endorsed the idea of their importance, he again blamed Ukraine for fanning the problems there.

Europe remains Russia’s most important interlocutor, despite the Kremlin’s multifaceted attempts to undermine EU solidarity and to depict the region as a caldron of anarchy and economic problems, and as lacking traditional values.

Moscow has repeatedly brushed off criticism of its disinformation and other campaigns in Europe as the product of “Russophobia.”

In Germany, the talks are important for the chancellor as she faces a difficult race for a fourth term in elections scheduled for Sept. 24.

Gay rights protesters had engaged in a 48-hour vigil outside Merkel’s office, demanding that she bring up the issue of gay men in Chechnya.

Asked about recent arrests of protesters in Russia, Putin said: “Our law enforcement and judicial organs act within the framework of the laws that exist in Russia and will continue to act in that way, observing order and discipline.”

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