Human rights protests set for Putin's UK visit

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Indy Politics

President Vladimir Putin will find his footsteps dogged by protesters angered by Russia's treatment of ethnic minorities when he receives the red carpet treatment in Britain next week. Mr Putin and his wife Lyudmila are to make the first state visit to the United Kingdom by a Russian head of state for 150 years.

The Russian leader is admired by Tony Blair as a moderniser who has upheld democracy and improved Moscow's relations with the West. But human rights groups and other opponents say there is a dark side to the new Russia, including the brutal repression in Chechnya, whose Muslim inhabitants want greater independence.

Amnesty International, which is backing protests to coincide with the state visit, has also alleged that Russia has an exceptionally high level of domestic violence, that prison conditions are worse than almost anywhere else in the developed world, and that there is discrimination against other minorities such as the Tajiks, Meshketians, and gypsies.

They want the issues raised when the Putins are invited to lunch at Downing Street with Tony and Cherie Blair on Thursday, the last full day of the visit.

The advance party of Russian MPs and officials are due in London tonight. They include two of Russia's best known MPs, the former cosmonaut Elena Kondakova, who was the third Russian woman in space, and the polar explorer Artur Chilingarov, who led the team that rescued the crew of the Somov ice-breaker after it was trapped in ice for several weeks.

The Putins will arrive on Tuesday, to be greeted by the Prince of Wales at Heathrow. When they reach central London they will get a full ceremonial by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, including the traditional ride in a state carriage from Horse Guards Parade to Buckingham Palace.

As they pass along The Mall, the Russian guests will pass the ICA theatre, which is showing a film series about Russia's troubled border republic, Chechnya.

Amnesty International is planning a protest outside the ICA about Russia's treatment of the Chechens and other minorities, and a second one in Edinburgh, which the Putins will visit on Wednesday.