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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Joint letter attacks Putin reform
Vaclav Havel
Havel and friends say the West has remained silent on Putin's reforms
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel and 100 international figures have signed a letter criticising reforms proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Havel's aides say the signatories include former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, US Senator John McCain and philosopher Francis Fukuyama.

The letter has been sent to the heads of all European Union and Nato states.

It raises concerns that the Beslan school tragedy is being used to further undermine democracy in Russia.

The letter calls for a change of stance towards Moscow by the West, but also expresses solidarity with Russia in the fight against terror and condemns the seizure of the school in southern Russia earlier this month.

New official figures released on Wednesday put the latest death toll for the Beslan tragedy at 331 civilians, including 172 children.

A number of elite troops and rescuers are also thought to have been killed during the siege.

Some 76 bodies have still not been identified, and 240 people remain hospitalised, the Russian emergencies ministry said.


Mr Putin announced a sweeping overhaul of the way Russia is run, in the wake of the Beslan siege, the bombing of two passenger planes and other recent attacks on civilians.

The leaders of the West must recognise that our current strategy towards Russia is failing
He said strengthening central government control was a necessary part of the fight against terrorism.

The signatories to the letter say Russian foreign policy under Mr Putin has been marked by a "threatening attitude" to neighbouring countries and "the return of the rhetoric of militarism and empire".

"All too often in the past, the West has remained silent and restrained its criticism in the belief that President Putin's steps in the wrong direction were temporary and the hope that Russia soon would return to a democratic pro-Western path," they say in the letter.

"The leaders of the West must recognise that our current strategy toward Russia is failing.

"We must speak the truth about what is happening in Russia. We owe it to the victims of Beslan and the tens of thousands of Russian democrats who are still fighting to preserve democracy and human freedom in their country."

The Council of Europe's human rights envoy, who visited Beslan last week, has also criticised Mr Putin's reforms.

"It is important to say that in Russia, as in all of Europe, the fight against terrorism cannot serve as a pretext to do whatever one wants," Alvaro Gil-Robles said on Wednesday.

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