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    Russia's parliament blasts U.S. human rights report on Russia

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    Both houses of Russia's parliament have criticized in their statements the latest U.S. human rights report on Russia as interference in the country's domestic affairs.

    MOSCOW, April 13 (RIA Novosti) - Both houses of Russia's parliament have criticized in their statements the latest U.S. human rights report on Russia as interference in the country's domestic affairs.

    The report "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006," published last week by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, blasted democratic processes in Russia and the current situation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights protection.

    "The Federation Council [the upper house] views the report as interference in Russia's internal affairs and those of other sovereign states, and as an unfriendly act capable of provoking extremist sentiments, and categorically opposes the accusations against Russia as ungrounded," the statement says.

    Lawmakers said that the report demonstrated that the U.S. State Department's political interests covered Russia's legislative branch, the election system, political parties, NGOs, mass media and business associations.

    The Russian government has faced criticism from Western leaders for restrictions imposed on rights groups and NGOs operating in the country, and the issue is often cited as an example of Russia's alleged backsliding on democracy.

    The April 6 report said in particular that if it was not for the United States and its embassy in Russia, which supported various NGOs and democratic initiatives, the political and social situation would have deteriorated much further in the country.

    "With U.S. support, NGOs continued to monitor the work of deputies in regional legislatures, encouraging interaction between constituents and their elected officials and promoting good governance. Sixteen U.S.-supported coalitions of business associations united more than 170 associations nationwide; these groups won at least 30 legislative changes in various regions of the country. The ambassador met with the head of the Central Election Commission and with political party leaders, including opposition leaders, throughout the year to emphasize the need for transparent and fair elections," the report said.

    "Considering this, the Federation Council states that Russia is a free and sovereign state which has conducted independent domestic and foreign policy for centuries and does not intend to break this tradition today," the Russian senators said.

    They voiced their particular concerns over U.S. attempts to be a mentor to democracy in Russian political processes, and also to participate in them pursuing its own interests, an activity they said had been boosted in view of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia.

    "In this way, the ground is being prepared for a deliberately negative assessment of the election campaign and the outcome of the popular vote," the senators said.

    Members of the lower house, the State Duma, said they would demand that the government, prosecutors and the Public Chamber, a body set up to act as a bridge between society and the state, ensure the observance of a new, more stringent law on NGOs in Russia and check their financial sources. Under the law, NGOs are prohibited from receiving funds from foreign states for political purposes.

    The U.S. "will not take the modern realities of Russian public life adequately, trying to influence the political situation in our country," lawmakers said.

    Confirming a desire to continue the constructive development of Russian-American relations, the upper house called on the U.S. to respect the rights of sovereign countries and democratic basis for nations' life.

    Senator Viktor Ozerov, who heads a defense and security committee, said democratization in line with American standards can cost nations dearly and that implementing goals to democratize Russia and other former Soviet republics "has led to sad consequences in some independent states."

    "The infamous 'color revolutions' and developments in social, political and economic life in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan demonstrate this," Ozerov said.

    He said the State Department's report was of a provocative and doctrinal manner with clear guidelines designed to pressure Russia and other countries.

    Ozerov said the report contained ungrounded accusations against security bodies, which he said the authors blamed for "all the miseries and failures in our democratic development."

    He called on the U.S. to start analyzing their own human rights and democratic principles, adding that there was enough proof of their democratic backsliding in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons, CIA secret jails and "the democratic actions" in Serbia and Iraq.

    Discussions in the Federation Council were distinguished by calls to set up a fund to develop democracy in the U.S.

    "Let us establish a fund for supporting democracy in the U.S. and allocate funds for this purpose," senator Valentin Zavadnikov said.

    His proposal was backed by Deputy Speaker Svetlana Orlova: "We should offer them loans and hold forums and seminars [in the U.S.] teaching democracy."

    She said the U.S. position on Russia was caused by Washington's concern that "the world was changing and many countries were becoming more democratic that the U.S. itself."

    Citing an example of U.S. undemocratic conduct, Orlova gave an insulting fingerprinting procedure one has to undergo in order to obtain a U.S. visa.

    "Imagine that! I was supposed to have my fingerprints taken! We should demand the same from the deputy speaker of the U.S. Senate so that he can get a Russian visa," she said.

    Senator Sergei Lisovsky proposed considering economic sanctions against the U.S.

    "The State Department's next step after the report will be to impose economic sanctions against our country, and we do not even expect this," he said.

    "We should make the government notice these unfriendly measures and find some economic levers of influence," he added.

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