Putin says war on terrorism requires NGO curbs

By Oliver Bullough
Monday, December 5, 2005; 9:36 AM

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Monday defended a bill that would severely restrict the access of charities and rights groups to foreign funding and said the measure was crucial to Russia's war on terrorism.

Since the bill -- which will also force all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to re-register -- was presented in October, activists have criticized it as an infringement of their rights.

President George W. Bush raised the issue at a summit with Putin last month.

Putin has previously said it will prevent foreigners undermining Russian sovereignty, which is seen by analysts as meaning they want to prevent a democratic revolution on the Ukraine model.

But he went further on Monday, saying it was key to defeating international terrorists hiding under the cover of NGOs.

"This bill is necessary to ensure the security of our political system from outside interference, to defend our society and citizens from the spread of terrorist and hateful ideologies," he was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

The Kremlin has previously used the needs of the war on terrorism to justify its abolition of elections for regional governors and restrictions on the media.

But Putin went on to say the bill should be toned down, and that his administration should send amendments to parliament within five days to reflect criticism from rights bodies.


"The main achievements of modern Russia are the democratic process and civil society, and we must make sure we do not, as they say, throw the baby out with the bath water," he said.

Under the bill, Russian NGOs would lose access to most foreign funding, as well as being forced to re-register. Foreign NGOs would be unable to work in Russia in their current form.

Independent NGOs said his latest speech suggested the outcry over the terms had taken Putin completely by surprise.

"These are irresponsible people. They have their own requirements and they serve them. They do not think about how it looks in the eyes of the world until it is too late," said Valentina Melnikova, head of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, a group that campaigns for the rights of conscripts.

The bill, which passed its first reading, has also met criticism from members of the "Public Chamber" -- a new Kremlin-backed organization designed to formalize the Kremlin's links to civil society.

The State Duma lower house of parliament has already postponed the second reading of the bill, originally scheduled for Friday, for at least a week after the protests from members of the Public Chamber.

"But this does not mean we fully agree with their opinions," said Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Ivan Rodin)

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