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By John Whitesides and Paul Eckert
WASHINGTON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The United States criticized China on Wednesday in its annual report on human rights, one week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton soft-pedaled rights concerns during a visit to Beijing.
The State Department report also took aim at Russia, saying civil liberties there were "under siege" and the war with Georgia last summer resulted in heavy civilian casualties.
In an examination of human rights in more than 190 countries during 2008, the State Department criticized many of its usual targets, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.
"The most serious human rights abuses tended to occur in countries where unaccountable rulers wielded unchecked power or there was government failure or collapse, often exacerbated or caused by internal or external conflict," said the annual report, which regularly draws the anger of foreign governments targeted for criticism.
The report covers the final year of President George W. Bush’s administration, which was criticized for its own human rights record, including interrogation methods used on detainees and the Guantanamo prison.
New President Barack Obama has ordered Guantanamo closed in a year and adopted a harsher line against the possible torture of terrorism suspects. Clinton endorsed the view in a preface to the report.
"The promotion of human rights is an essential piece of our foreign policy," she said. "Not only will we seek to live up to our ideals on American soil, we will pursue greater respect for human rights as we engage other nations and people around the world."
China’s human rights record "remained poor and worsened in some areas," the report said.
"The Chinese government increased detention and harassment of dissidents, petitioners, human rights defenders and defense lawyers," it said. "Other serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial killings, torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, and the use of forced labor, including prison labor."
The United States has long accused China of human rights abuses and pressed Beijing to grant greater autonomy to Tibet, but on her visit last week Clinton said their joint efforts to ease the global financial crisis, fight climate change and curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions came first.
Human rights groups criticized Clinton’s stance and said it undermined U.S. arguments on human rights. (Editing by Bill Trott)