* About 1,000 gay rights activists protest in Amsterdam
* Topless women disrupt Putin visit to German trade fair
* Putin defends Moscow moves against foreign NGOs
* Merkel criticises of Russian clampdown on dissent
By Alexei Anishchuk and Thomas Escritt
AMSTERDAM, April 8 President Vladimir Putin
defended Russia's treatment of homosexuals on Monday in
Amsterdam, where 1,000 gay rights activists waved pink and
orange balloons and blasted out dance music to press home their
Western nations need Russia for energy and as a market for
exports but are uneasy about Putin's human rights policies and
his treatment of opponents in his new Kremlin term.
Putin's visit to the Netherlands and Germany, Moscow's
biggest trade partners in Europe, also comes at an awkward time
after a wave of state inspections of foreign-funded
non-governmental organisations in Russia that has been much
In Amsterdam, Dutch and Russian companies signed a batch of
energy deals and Putin met Queen Beatrix and Prime Minister Mark
Rutte, while around 1,000 protesters blew whistles, played loud
music, and waved the gay pride flag nearby in the city famous
for its liberal attitude.
Putin, who laughed off a topless protest earlier in the day
in Germany, said Russia did not discriminate against gay people.
"In the Russian Federation - so that it is clear to
everybody - there is no infringement on the rights of sexual
minorities," he said.
"These people, like everyone else, enjoy all the same rights
and freedoms as everyone else," he told a news conference - held
at Amsterdam's Maritime Museum in a nod to the days when Peter
the Great worked as a young man in an Amsterdam shipyard.
Russia's parliament has given preliminary approval to a ban
on "homosexual propaganda" targeting minors, which critics say
would effectively ban gay rights demonstrations. The United
States has said the legislation "severely restricts freedom of
expression and assembly".
Many houses and bridges in the historic canal district of
Amsterdam were draped with banners and the rainbow flag of the
gay pride movement, protesting about what human rights
organisations say is institutional repression of gays in Russia.
"Putin go homo," read one, echoing the message "Putin go
home" on the front page of Friday's NRC Next daily newspaper.
"I'm protesting against the anti-gay law in Russia because
it's unreal. You can't tell people to go back into the closet,"
said one protester, who gave his name as Connie Feather, dressed
in a rainbow striped chiffon dress and blue feather boa.
Earlier, in Germany, three members of the women's rights
group Femen, which has protested against Russia's detention of
the feminist punk band Pussy Riot around Europe, disrupted his
visit to a trade fair in the German city of Hanover.
They stripped to the waist and shouted slogans calling Putin
a "dictator" before being bundled away by security men.
"Regarding this performance, I liked it," grinned Putin at a
joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I
did not catch what they were shouting, I did not even see if
they were blondes, brunettes or chestnut-haired ..."
Putin, who began his six-year third term as president last
May, arrived in Amsterdam, after holding talks with Merkel.
They want to further boost booming economic ties but the
German leader also repeated her concerns about human rights in
Russia after raids by Russian authorities on German and other
non-governmental organisations based in the country.
A new Russian law requires NGOs to register as "foreign
agents" if they have foreign funding and are deemed to be
involved in politics, something many groups have refused to do,
saying they are not acting on behalf of other nations and are
not trying to influence Russian politics.
For many, the term evokes Soviet-era oppression and Cold War
"This is about NGOs being able to work well and freely ... A
lively civil society can only emerge when individuals can
operate without fear or worry, of course on the basis of law,"
said Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany.
Putin, a former KGB agent who worked in East Germany in the
1980s and speaks fluent German, denied the Kremlin was trying to
muzzle NGOs and said Moscow just wanted to monitor the amounts
of foreign funding coming into Russia.
"All our actions are connected not with closing and
forbidding (foreign-funded NGOs in Russia), but with monitoring
financial flows that go to non-governmental Russian
organisations which are involved in internal political activity,
and this money comes from outside of the country," he said.
"Regarding the freedom of work of these organisations, it is
not limited at all. They only have to register."