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Sarkozy Meets With Russian Human Rights Activists

MOSCOW. Oct 10 (Interfax) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy and activists from the Russian-based Memorial human rights center discussed freedom of speech and protection of human rights in the North Caucasus at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday.

The rights activists included Memorial head Oleg Orlov, its board member Svetlana Gannushkina, and its member Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, who works in the North Caucasus.

"We discussed freedom of speech, the condition of non-governmental organizations, the situation in the North Caucasus, the problem of Russia's historical memory and the danger of a return to the Brezhnev-era historical concept, which, in our view, has to do with a decline in human rights protection" in Russia, Orlov told Interfax.

Sarkozy displayed interest in meeting with Russian human rights activists and asked a number of questions, Orlov said.

"I believe this was a symbolic meeting and a kind of symbolic message both to the Russian authorities and French society," Orlov said.

"The essence of this symbolic message is that responsible politicians of a new generation, such as Sarkozy, discuss not only development of economic relations during their visits to Russia but also the condition of human rights in the European territory," Orlov said.

Asked why he thought Sarkozy met precisely with activists from Memorial, Orlov replied, "First, because the organizers of the visit apparently sought to pick a small circle of civil society activists."

"In addition, they chose us because we were granted an award from the French Republic last year for our efforts in investigating abductions in the North Caucasus," Orlov said.