Civil rights activists have said they will protest Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Germany’s Hanover trade fair this weekend. Putin, meanwhile, has defended controversial searches of foreign NGOs.
Demonstrations by at least three organizations were planned outside the opening ceremony on Sunday, when Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to appear on stage with Putin.
The planned actions follow a series of raids on human rights groups and other foreign organizations operating in Russia.
Moscow has argued in the past that such organizations are being used as political tools by the West, and that their funding is not transparent. But, while the Kremlin claims the crackdown is aimed at stopping outside meddling into Russian affairs, critics say it is aimed at stifling disent.
"Putin's politics are no kind of partner for the fair;" said Julia Willie, leader of the Greens party in Lower Saxony, which has organized one of the protests. The party is in a ruling coalition state government with the center-left Social Democrats.
The national parliamentary Greens party in Berlin added its criticism. "Instead of harassing the Russian democracy movement, further earning himself the prevailing bogeyman image that he has in the West, President Putin should be rather more inclined to join the European family," said parliamentary party spokeswoman Marieluise Beck.
'A flawless dictator'
The human rights group Amnesty International said it was also organizing a picket there, as did the NGO Society for Threatened Peoples.
In a barbed dig ahead of the fair, the latter organization referred to Putin as a "flawless dictator," paraphrasing the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who once described Putin as a "flawless democrat."
However, in an interview with the German public broadcaster ARD, Putin on Friday defended the searches, which have been conducted against hundreds of foreign organizations. The searches have been conducted after Russia introduced a law that requires NGOs receiving money from outside the country to register as foreign agents.
In the television interview, Putin said the Russian government merely wanted to know "who is getting the money and how it is spent."
"In Russia, 654 non-governmental organizations are in operation," said Putin, adding "This is an entire network across Russia, including all of its regions,"
Merkel's office has said that the chancellor intends to question the Russian president about the policy. Russia is the guest nation of honor at this year's fair.
This year's fair, from Monday until April 12, is to be the biggest in a decade and is set to include 6,504 exhibitors from 62 nations.
rc/kms (AFP, dpa, KNA)