Obama talks spur rights call by Russian activists

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Rights groups and opposition parties called on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday to step up the fight against corruption and build a freer society after they met U.S. President Barack Obama this week.

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev participate in the U.S.-Russia business summit in Moscow, July 7, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Boris Nemtsov, head of the pro-Western “Solidarity” party, told Reuters the meeting with Obama had given them new hope.

“Now (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin and Medvedev will realize that there is more than just them in the political arena. We demand free political competition,” he said.

Obama dedicated part of an evening to Russia’s opposition parties and more than 70 civil society campaigners during his Moscow visit earlier this week, focusing on what they said was the country’s democratic deficit and lack of transparency.

“Balanced talks concerning rights are now possible and it is important that the government identifies with what we told Obama,” Yuri Dzhibladze, president of the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights in Moscow, told reporters after he met Obama.

The U.S. president avoided direct criticism of the Kremlin during his visit and emphasized positive talks with Medvedev, although he spoke in general terms during a public address about the value of democracy and human rights as ideals.

Addressing Obama late Tuesday, Dzhibladze compared discussing human rights in Russia to “talking about a disease.”

He and other campaigners presented the U.S. leader with a list of plans and suggestions to enhance openness in Russian society, including setting up joint human rights commissions and youth programs.

“It was a great breath of fresh air having the U.S. president take the right attitude to both the official and social level,” said Horton Beebe-Center, head of the Eurasia Foundation which organized Obama’s meeting with civil society representatives.

Obama did not comment on the list but said he and Medvedev had discussed initiating government programs to improve society and the two governments needed more social dialogue.

Andrei Kortunov, head of the non-profit New Eurasia Foundation which promotes social and economic development, said: “Recommendations we made to Obama are not just for the White House, but for the Kremlin as well, and we intend to press this.”

Since becoming president just over a year ago, Medvedev has made repeated pledges to encourage pluralism in business and society but analysts say he has made few substantive changes.

Editing by Andrew Dobbie