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US raps Russia and Saudi rights

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US raps Russia and Saudi rights

Saudi Arabia and Russia come in for heavy criticism in the US state department annual human rights report.

Riyadh is accused of torture and intimidation, while Russia's growing centralisation of power is highlighted.

The two countries are considered allies of the US, but its relations with both have become strained.

The report comes amid widespread criticism of the US as a result of the torture of detainees in Iraq - which is not mentioned in its pages.

It is issued four days after US President George W Bush raised Russia's human rights record with President Vladimir Putin - a supporter of the US-led war on terror - during a meeting in Slovakia.

'Pressure on judges'

"In Russia changes in parliamentary election laws and a shift to the appointment, instead of election, of regional governors further strengthened the power of the executive branch," the report says.

"Greater restrictions on the media, a compliant Duma (parliament), shortcomings in recent national elections, law enforcement corruption, and political pressure on the judiciary also raised concerns about the erosion of government accountability."

Turning to Saudi Arabia - a key oil supplier and another partner in the war on terror - it says there have been some gains, such as a conference on women's rights and creation of the first formal human rights group, but concludes: "The record of human rights abuses and violations... still far exceeds the advances".

The report says: "There were credible reports of torture and abuse of prisoners by security forces, arbitrary arrests, and incommunicado detentions. The religious police continued to intimidate, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners."

Most trials were closed, reformers were detained, Saudi women and minorities discriminated against and "the government continued to restrict freedoms of speech and press, assembly, association and movement", it adds.

'Outposts of tyranny'

Other US allies whose conduct comes in for criticism in the report are Egypt and Jordan.

The document, which covers 196 countries, also contains frequently aired criticisms of China and six states dubbed "outposts of tyranny" by new US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: Iran, North Korea, Burma, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

It also singled out the government of Sudan for an "extremely poor" record in the conflict in the western region of Darfur.

The report also lists areas where the Bush administration says its foreign policies have been successful, listing advances in democracy in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We believe events like these elections will increase the prospects for peace, provide a solid grounding for self-government in these countries and help create momentum for the improvement of human rights practices for all people participating in them," it says.

Story from BBC NEWS:

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the funny thing is that Putin rebutted Bush's claims regarding a free media by claiming that Bush had those CBS reporters fired...

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