US uses double standards over protests Russia

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MOSCOW, Nov 27 (Reuters) The Kremlin accused Washington today of double standards in criticising police action against demonstrators who denounce parliamentary elections as skewed to strengthen President Vladimir Putin's grip on power.

Dozens of Putin's opponents, including the opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, were arrested when police broke up weekend protests in Moscow and the second city of St Petersburg a week before parliamentary polls.

US President George W Bush said he was ''deeply concerned'' about the detentions as well as force used at rallies. The European Union called the police action heavy-handed.

''Unfortunately, while expressing their concern about the actions by law enforcement bodies, our partners avoid expressing similar concerns about illegal actions by those who tried to provoke unrest in Moscow and St Petersburg,'' Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

''Apparently, when formulating their reaction the authors are using sources which are not objective and are often biased,'' Peskov said referring to Bush's comments.

The protesters, portrayed by the Kremlin as Western-backed remnants of the chaotic 1990s, say they have been forced from the airwaves and the streets ahead of Sunday's elections.

Putin, striking a truculent tone likely to win sympathy in a Russia enjoying renewed economic strength, yesterday cited what he called US meddling in the elections and accused foreign powers of ''Poking their snotty noses'' into Russian affairs.

The victory of Putin's United Russia seems assured; but Putin needs an overwhelming vote to underline his popularity as the man who led Russia to some form of economic and social stability. This in turn would help him retain a hold on power after a second and final term as president ends early next year.

CROSSED SWORDS The Kremlin spokesman said the Western reaction to the protests contrasted sharply with the mild criticism voiced by Washington when police in ex-Soviet Georgia, a US ally, used tear gas and truncheons to break up an opposition rally.

''Such a practice of applying double standards does not look satisfactory to say the least,'' Peskov said.

Russia and the West have also crossed swords over the decision by the main contingent of election observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to pull out, citing obstruction by Moscow.

Putin yesterday said Washington had a hand in the observers' decision to pull out.

The Kremlin has rejected accusations by critics at home and abroad of intimidating the opposition. It has accused opposition protesters of teaming up with Western forces which it believes are seeking to distabilise Russia.

With a seven percent hurdle in place, it seems possible only one other party, the communists, might qualify for parliamentary places after the voting.

REUTERS RJ ND1950

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