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Politics

German foreign ministry addresses NGO raids in Russia

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has invited a Russian envoy to his ministry in Berlin to "express the German government's concern" about a series of raids on NGOs in Russia, including key political foundations.

Russia's ambassador to Germany was summoned to the foreign ministry in Berlin on Tuesday, after raids on key German political foundations in Moscow and St Petersburg.

"The Russian ambassador was made aware of the German government's concerns about the concerted actions against numerous non-governmental organizations, including German political foundations," the ministry said after Tuesday's talks.

The offices of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) in St Petersburg and of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Moscow have both come under scrutiny as part of new laws permitting Russian authorities to seek "foreign agents" supporting domestic dissidents.

"This morning four computers were taken from our office in St Petersburg, by a representative of the interior ministry and a representative of the public prosecutor's office," said Hans-Gert Pöttering, the chairman of the KAS foundation with close ties to Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Pöttering said the raids were "worrying and in no way acceptable," saying NGOs conducted important work helping promote freedom, democracy and justice. "Every impediment to their work damages democratic development," Pöttering said.

The government's Russia coordinator, Andreas Stockenhoff of the Christian Democrats, called the raids "wholly unacceptable" and said the Russian government should seek to appear "open to the world and modern," especially ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Mixed opposition messages

The FES, with close ties to the main opposition Social Democrats, said that its offices in Moscow were being checked by public prosecutors and tax officials.

"We presume that we will be able to continue our full program of activity within the Russian Federation once the checks are completed," the FES said in a statement.

Internationally renowned NGO Amnesty International was similarly disrupted on Monday, while the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung tied to Germany's Greens has also come under similar checks - described by the Kremlin as a means to combat foreign espionage.

"We demand the immediate re-evaluation of the Visa privileges for Russian government staff," Green party politician Volker Beck said on Tuesday. "This action is aimed at intimidating all human rights advocates in Russia."

Social Democrat chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück, meanwhile, struck a comparatively conciliatory tone in an interview with German newspaper "Zeit." Steinbrück said such issues should be discussed behind closed doors, not in the press - saying that overt criticism could damage Germany's chances to make practical progress on the issue.

msh/jm (dpa, Reuters)