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Russia urged to do more on rights

MOSCOW, Oct 14 – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday made an impassioned plea for Russia to take a stronger stance on human rights while admitting some officials in both countries were still stuck in the Cold War era.

In comments to students at Moscow State University and a liberal Russian radio station, Clinton said attacks on activists in Russia were of great concern to Washington and it was time for Russia’s government to speak out more strongly.

Underlining the problems that remain for US-Russian relations, she said there were people in both governments who were still living in the past and did not want the two former foes to cooperate.

"Citizens must be empowered to formulate the laws under which they live," she said in front of 2,000 students at the university, standing beneath a Soviet-era mosaic featuring a large hammer and sickle.

"In an innovative society, people must be free to take unpopular decisions, disagree with conventional wisdom, know they are safe to peacefully challenge accepted practice and authority.

"That’s why attacks on journalists and human rights defenders are of such great concern."

Russia has failed to find the killers of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya three years after she was shot dead in the stairwell of her apartment block in central Moscow.

Many other activists have been killed or attacked in recent years, including Politkovskaya’s friend and collaborator Natalya Estemirova, who was murdered in July.

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"Every country has its criminal elements, people who try to abuse power. But in the last 18 months… there have been many of these incidents," she told Echo of Moscow radio in her interview.

"I think we want the government to stand up and say this is wrong."

Clinton said in her meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday she had made clear "that we did not believe that enough was being done to ensure no one had impunity from prosecution."

Washington and Moscow are seeking to "reset" relations which were damaged in recent years by disputes over Russia’s war with Georgia, NATO expansion and stinging US criticism of the Russian human rights record.

Also on Tuesday the US secretary of state met with some of Russia’s top rights activists and journalists, responding to concerns that the United States would take a softer line on Russian rights issues amid improved relations.

Speaking in the grand main hall of the university building, Clinton admitted that both Russia and the United States still had problems overcoming their Cold War past.

"I will be the first to tell you that we have people in our government and you have people in your government who are still living in the past," she said.

"They do not believe the United States and Russia can cooperate to this extent. They do not trust each other and we have to prove them wrong. That is our goal."

Clinton did not give further details of which officials she meant.

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US President Barack Obama had declared on the eve of his visit to Moscow in July he believed that Russia’s strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin "has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new."

Clinton met Medvedev Tuesday but is not meeting with Putin — a former president who is still widely seen as holding the true power in Russia — as he is on a trip to China.

In an interview with Echo of Moscow radio, Clinton declared: "I would have enjoyed meeting with Prime Minister Putin. We had certainly intended to do so but our schedules did not work out."

She did however round off her visit with a trip to the Volga River city of Kazan, the capital of Russia’s predominantly Muslim Tatarstan region, which touts itself as a proud example of interfaith harmony.

In Moscow she also unveiled a new statue to the US poet Walt Whitman and impressed her audience by revealing that one of her favourite books was "The Brothers Karamazov" by classic Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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