Suspended NGOs Resume Work in Russia
The Associated Press
By Maria Danilova

Russia has allowed dozens of foreign non-governmental organizations to resume operations and was speeding up the registration process for others barred from working last week, officials said Tuesday.

The suspensions had provoked an international outcry.

Anatoly Panchenko, a Justice Ministry official, said about 40 of the roughly 100 nonprofit groups suspended Thursday after failing to meet a tough new law for re-registration had since been added to the list of officially sanctioned groups. He expressed optimism that the rest would also return to work soon.

“There will be no problems – they will all be included in the list,” Panchenko told The Associated Press.

Among the groups that remained suspended late Tuesday were Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their persistent criticism of President Vladimir Putin raised suspicion that the Russian authorities were deliberately keeping them in legal limbo.

Putin, who has warned against foreign-financed groups interfering in domestic politics, has been accused of backsliding on democracy and freedom of the press since he took office in 2000.

Among the groups allowed to return to work were two U.S.-based pro-democracy organizations – National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute, Panchenko said.

The decision to speed up the registration process appeared to be a response to strong international concerns about the law and last week’s suspensions. The law obliged foreign-based groups to complete the procedure by Oct. 18 deadline or stop their activities.

The U.S. State Department last week urged Russia to speed up the re-registration process and to allow all the nonprofit groups to continue operating.

Western governments have expressed strong concern about the law, which imposed strict limits on all NGOs but especially Russian ones.

Critics in Russia saw the law passed last year as part of a Kremlin campaign to stem dissent, particularly before parliamentary elections in 2007 and a presidential election in 2008.

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