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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Disputes loom at EU-Russia talks
Vladimir Putin meets EU leaders
The EU is hoping to smooth strained relations with Russia
The European Union has begun talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit the bloc hopes will remove some obstacles towards a co-operation pact.

The EU wants to establish a strategic partnership with Moscow, despite simmering disputes over trade, energy, human rights and international affairs.

Russia's envoy to the EU has said: "We don't want to listen to any lectures."

Initial talks are expected to focus on fighting the drugs trade and on raising Russian steel exports to the EU.

Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are meeting the Russian leader at a former royal palace in Mafra, near the Portuguese capital Lisbon.

Europeans 'confident'

This is the last summit Vladimir Putin is due to attend as Russian president before he steps down next year.

One diplomat told me the Russians saw themselves as a great power, the equal of big international organisations like Nato and the EU
BBC Europe editor, Mark Mardell

EU officials hope it will ease the increasingly strained relations between the bloc and Russia and pave the way for a 10-year agreement, which will include provisions on energy.

The EU depends on Russia for a third of its energy needs and after two successive winters in which gas supplies were disrupted, it will welcome a deal on an early-warning system to avoid future crises.

There is also a renewed self-confidence among EU leaders following the conclusion of a new reform treaty last week and the electoral defeat of Poland's nationalist government, which had been blocking talks on a new wide-ranging agreement with Moscow, reports the BBC's Oana Lungescu in Mafra.

But continuing concerns over human rights and democracy will overshadow the summit, ahead of Russia's parliamentary and presidential polls, she says.

In separate appeals, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged EU leaders to speak firmly and with one voice about what the groups call the Kremlin's worsening human rights record.



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