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Begich Urges Russia to Uphold Civil Rights

Recent arrests of protestors raise concern

With Alaska and Russia less than three miles apart at the closest point, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today urged the Russian government to honor the civil rights of all its citizens, including those peacefully protesting government policies.

"Trade and citizen-based educational, cultural and scientific exchanges between Alaska and the Russian Far East are active and welcome," Begich said. "The recent arrests of nearly 130 pro-democracy activists in Moscow and St. Petersburg threaten to chill U.S.-Russian relations at a time when we can ill afford it."

Last year, Begich met with former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov in his Washington, D.C., office to discuss opportunities to advance American-Russian relations. Nemtsov was among those arrested in Moscow on New Year's Eve and is now serving a 15-day jail sentence.

"Just a few weeks ago, I was pleased to vote to ratify a comprehensive nuclear arms treaty which serves to strengthen U.S.-Russian relations. On the heels of this important Senate action, I am disappointed the Russian government has rounded up its citizens who were peacefully urging democratic reforms, and then tossed them in jail," Begich said.

Since Alaskans helped melt the "ice curtain" between Alaska and Russia in the mid 1980s, contacts between the two countries have flourished. Begich met numerous Russian officials as mayor of Anchorage and has continued to promote improved relations with Russia as a senator.

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