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Berlusconi rebuked for Putin praise

Brussels, Nov. 7 (Reuters): The European Commission today disowned Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s view on Russia’s handling of the Yukos oil giant and its behaviour in Chechnya, a day after he voiced glowing support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a rare rebuke to the country holding the EU’s rotating presidency, chief Commission spokesperson Reijo Kemppinen said: “We do not share the view of Prime Minister Berlusconi when it comes to the situation of Yukos, nor when it comes to the present... or past situation in Chechnya.”

He said commission president Romano Prodi had told Putin at yesterday’s EU-Russia summit in Rome that the arrest of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the impounding of a stake in the private energy company raised concerns about the security of foreign investments in Russia.

“Insofar as the remarks of Prime Minister Berlusconi yesterday on these two affairs (are concerned), I would define them as personal remarks,” Kemppinen said. Berlusconi’s spokesperson in Rome shot back, rebuking Prodi and Kemppinen for only voicing their criticism after both the summit and the conference were over.

He said Prodi should have expressed his opposition to Berlusconi’s views during the summit and subsequent news conference.

At the joint conference, Berlusconi had launched into a five-minute defence of the Kremlin leader’s policies on the application of Russian law in the Yukos affair.

“I know President Putin well enough that I can personally vouch for his precise understanding of the distinction, the separation between the executive and judicial powers,” the Italian leader said.

“I’m acting as President Putin’s defence lawyer here, even though he hasn’t asked me to.”

He slammed western media for questioning the rule of law in Russia and human rights in Chechnya.

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