May 18, 2007

THE E.U. VS. PUTIN:

European Union leaders criticized Russia’s human rights record—and were faulted in return—at the end of a summit Friday that produced no formal agreements but helped illustrate the widening political chasm between Moscow and the West.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained that opposition activists were being prevented from traveling to a planned protest in the Volga River city of Samara, near the site of the EU-Russia summit.

“I’m concerned about some people having problems in traveling here,” Merkel told reporters. “I hope they will be given an opportunity to express their opinion.”

Among the activists kept from boarding flights was former chess champion Garry Kasparov, now a leading political foe of President Vladimir Putin. Officials confiscated activists’ passports and tickets at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, and held them for about five hours. Activists in Samara also said they were harassed.

Russia’s democratic freedoms and its treatment of critics are two of the most sensitive issues haunting Russia-EU relations. Merkel’s remark came during a sometimes fractious exchange over the topics between Putin and EU leaders at a news conference.

Given that his critics have a way of being assassinated, that shows some degree of courage. Don Surber thinks this may indicate that there’s still hope for Europe. Let it be so.

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