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Bush Meets With Russian Rights Activists

President Bush (file photo) Moscow, 9 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in Moscow on 9 May with representatives of 18 Russian human rights groups to discuss the state of press freedom and civil society in Russia, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported.

Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva told RFE/RL that Bush said he "personally understands that it is important for the people to be independent, that there be no fear in the country, and that people be compassionate to one another." She added that Bush emphasized his "very good" relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Alekseeva added that Russian companies have become reluctant to help finance civil-society programs in the wake of the Yukos affair. "Business is not independent here and business owners know that the authorities will be displeased with an entrepreneur who finances a human rights organization criticizing the authorities for human rights violations," she said.

At the same time, she said, organizations do not want to become dependent on the Russian government for funding. "Unlike social, charitable, or educational organizations, human rights and ecological organizations can count only on foreign financing," Alekseeva said.

In an open letter published in Britain's "Financial Times" on 9 May, a group of 71 international activists including Yelena Bonner, former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, and former Czech President Vaclav Havel called on world leaders to press Moscow on the issues of human rights and democracy in Russia. The letter states that principles of human rights are extremely weak in Russia, saying that it is ironic that the world is marking the anniversary of the liberation of Europe in "one of the least democratic countries in Europe."