German prize cancelled after Putin choice criticized

BERLIN Sat Jul 16, 2011 1:26pm EDT

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (C) meets with employees as he visits the Metallurgical Plant in Russia's Siberian city of Magnitogorsk July 15, 2011. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (C) meets with employees as he visits the Metallurgical Plant in Russia's Siberian city of Magnitogorsk July 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool

BERLIN (Reuters) - A prominent German prize for freedom and democratic change will not be awarded this year after the independent award committee's decision to give it to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was criticized.

"There will be no prize this year," said a spokesman for the board of trustees that awards the Quadriga prize every year. "We will see how it continues next year."

The board of trustees said in a news release it was concerned by the "massive criticism in media and parts of politics," which prompted it to cancel the award for the first time since it was founded in 2003.

The decision comes just days before German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss deepening ties. They are due to meet on Monday and Tuesday.

Putin, a former KGB spy who was once stationed in East Germany, had been chosen as one of four 2011 Quadriga prize winners for his contribution to the stability and reliability of German-Russian relations, a spokesman said earlier this week.

Senior members of Germany's coalition this week criticized the choice, saying it undermined the Quadriga award, which is normally handed out on the October 3 national holiday celebrating German unification in 1990.

Others questioned Putin's democratic credentials.

Putin's spokesman was not available for comment.

Russian opposition groups say Putin led a clampdown on civil liberties during his presidency from 2000 to 2008. The United Nations and U.S. State Department have criticized Russia's human rights record and the European Parliament urged Russia last week to guarantee free elections.

The Kremlin has dismissed such criticism.

The Quadriga award annually honors people who are "role models for and from Germany" and is "dedicated to all those whose courage tears down walls and whose commitment builds bridges."

Putin has enjoyed close relations with former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and helped the retired German leader secure a supervisory board position at a Russian-German energy company.

The German Foreign Office declined to comment, saying it was a private decision by a private organization. The Russian Embassy also declined to comment.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former Czech President Vaclav Havel, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan are among previous winners.

(Reporting by Sabine Ehrhardt and Annika Breidthardt, and by Maria Kiseloyva in Moscow; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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