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Putin Defends Russia's Treatment Of Gays, NGO Raids

Dutch Queen Beatrix and Russian President Vladimir Putin raise their glasses after they unveiled a plaque during their visit to the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam on April 8.
Dutch Queen Beatrix and Russian President Vladimir Putin raise their glasses after they unveiled a plaque during their visit to the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam on April 8.
President Vladimir Putin says Russia does not discriminate against homosexuals.

Putin was speaking at a press conference in Amsterdam, where he had been greeted by gay rights activists and other protesters critical of Russia's gay-rights policies.

Putin said it should be "clear to everybody" that the rights of sexual minorities are not being violated in Russia, adding, "These people...enjoy all the same rights and freedoms as everyone else."

In January, Russian lawmakers approved a bill that makes gay public events and the dissemination of information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000.

It still requires final approval by parliament, and would have to be signed into law by the president.

Defending NGO Raids

Putin arrived in the Netherlands from Germany, where he held talks earlier on April 8 with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

After the talks, Putin spoke in defense of a recent wave of much-criticized state inspections of Russia's nongovernmental organizations.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Merkel in the German city of Hannover, Putin said Russia has a right to monitor the funding those groups receive from abroad.

"I would like to mention the numbers once again. Within four months after the relevant law has been enacted in Russia there has been -- and I want to draw your attention -- 28.3 billion rubles transferred into the accounts of NGOs from abroad," Putin said. "This is almost $1 billion. Just within four months. It cannot leave us indifferent. Our people are entitled to know where this money comes from and what it is used for."

Putin also suggested the money could have been better used to help financially troubled countries like Cyprus.

Merkel said she had expressed Germany's concern over the NGOs inspections and reiterated her support for a strong civil society.

Two German think tanks were among the scores of NGOs subjected to inspections in recent weeks across Russia.

Trade Focus, Too

Earlier in the day, Putin and Merkel visited the Hannover trade fair where Russia is this year's guest country.

A group of bare-breasted women activists from Ukrainian women rights group Femen confrounted Putin at the fair.

The women shouted "dictator" before being taken away by security personnel.

Putin quipped that he "liked" what he saw, but added: "To be honest, I could not figure out what they were shouting because the security stepped in really harshly. Huge blokes jumped on the girls. I don't think it is right, they could have been treated more gently. We have already got used to such actions and I do not see anything terrible in them. Of course, it is better not to violate public order. If somebody intends to discuss political issues it is better to do so with one's clothes on, without undressing."

Putin's arrival at the trade fair on April 7 also drew protesters, some of whom were dressed in striped prison uniforms.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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