Russian President Vladimir Putin has opened the Hanover Trade Fair with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as protesters outside decried a perceived descent to dictatorship under Putin's rule.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the world's biggest industrial fair in Hanover on Sunday, as human rights organizations protested outside against Russia's increasing authoritarianism.
Russia is the partner country for this year's Hanover Trade Fair, where some 6,500 exhibitors from 62 countries are showing the latest developments in industrial technology.
In his opening speech, Putin highlighted Russia's economic growth and relatively low unemployment rate as evidence that the country is a good investment. He also noted a rise in German-Russian trade, which hit an all-time high last year of 80.5 billion euros ($105 billion).
About 350 activists turned out in the northern German city, with signs directed toward Putin reading "Leave NGOs in peace" and "Stop political terror." Russia came under harsh criticism from international leaders and human rights groups after authorities raided the offices of dozens of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations late last month.
Merkel made tacit reference to those raids in her opening speech, describing NGOs as a "motor of innovation" that must be given a chance to work to improve the lives of Russian citizens.
"We are convinced that this succeeds best when there is an active civil society," Merkel said.
Erika Steinbach, human rights spokeswoman for the parliamentary group of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, said Sunday that Germany cannot turn a blind eye to abuses in Russia.
"Despite strong business ties, we can't close our eyes to the dismal human rights situation in Russia," she told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
On Monday Putin and Merkel are scheduled to lay wreaths at a memorial cemetery where nearly 400 forced laborers from the former Soviet Union and other European countries are buried.
acb/jr (AP, AFP, dpa)