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    Russia's human rights institute in Europe could open in 2008

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    "The activities of the institute will focus on EU election legislation, the rights of ethnic minorities and immigrants in the European Union, xenophobia, racism and media freedom," Sergei Yastrzhembsky said in an interview with the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

    MOSCOW, November 6 (RIA Novosti) - A think tank for freedom and democracy proposed by Russia to be set up in one of the European capitals could start work as early as 2008, an aide to the Russian president said Tuesday.

    President Vladimir Putin proposed after a Russia-EU summit in Portugal in October, opening a Russian-funded institute on human rights and democracy, which would receive the same level of finance as European nongovernmental organizations in Russia receive from the EU.

    "The activities of the institute will focus on EU election legislation, the rights of ethnic minorities and immigrants in the European Union, xenophobia, racism and media freedom," Sergei Yastrzhembsky said in an interview with the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

    He said earlier that the institute would not be a joint venture with Europe and would be established "in accordance with the legislation of the country where it is based."

    "We are considering the capitals of Belgium, Germany and France at present," Yastrzhembsky said. "It has to be a public institution. It must not be a state-run or a commercial body."

    European rights groups have strongly criticized Russia's human rights record, accusing the Kremlin of clamping down on democracy and freedom of speech, and using brutal methods against militants in Chechnya and other North Caucasus republics.

    Russia, in turn, has accused Western governments of using human rights as a

    pretext to try to interfere in Russia's domestic affairs.

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