Aid groups forced to stop work in Russia

On Thursday scores of foreign humanitarian aid groups and charities that failed to meet a deadline for registration under a controversial new law had to suspend their work in Russia.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC)—one of the biggest organisations working in Chechnya—are among those obliged to cease their activities.

Many NGOs said their applications were delayed by bureaucratic demands to produce endless notarised documents, including passport details.

“This is the latest move in the Kremlin campaign to limit independent institutions that press for government accountability,’’ said Alison Gill, head of HRW’s Moscow office. “It’s going to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Russians.’‘

The law obliges NGOs to provide a “work plan’’ for 2007 and furnish internal documents on request.

President Vladimir Putin claims NGOs are a hotbed for spies and the law is necessary to clamp down on groups used as a channel for funding terrorists. European Union leaders were planning to question the Russian leader over democratic freedoms at a meeting in Finland on Friday.

Under the new legislation NGOs were obliged to submit an application to the federal registration service by Wednesday.
By Wednesday night only 91 foreign organisations out of up to 500 working in Russia were approved. All organisations whose applications are still under review are obliged to suspend their work until they receive an answer, a process that can take as long as a month.—Â

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