Italy, Russia sign 'protocol of cooperation'

Italy and Russia signed an agreement Friday to cooperate in fighting crime and defending civil liberties, at a time when Russia is being criticized for a new law some say is part of a Kremlin campaign to increase control over society and stem dissent.

The document, signed by Interior Ministers Giuseppe Pisanu and Rashid Nurgaliyev, pertained to the "fight against international crime and the defense of the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of the citizens of both states," Italy's Interior Ministry said. "Crime and criminal behavior are perfected all the time and constantly take new forms," Nurgaliyev told reporters after signing the document. Pisanu said, "It is now possible to intensify all common activity to prevent ... criminal threats aimed at our countries."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has faced Western criticism over legislation that was rushed through parliament late last year and quietly signed into law on Jan. 10.

The European and U.S. governments have severely criticized the bill, which restricts non-governmental organizations, and which commentators say follows Kremlin displeasure at criticism from organizations that promote human rights and democracy in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008.

The legislation provides for a new agency to oversee the registration, financing and activities of Russia's more than 400,000 NGOs, about 2,000 of which are involved in human rights.

It also allows the registering agency to ban financing of specific recipients if they are judged to threaten the country's national security or "morals," and to require foreign and domestic organizations to report in detail on how much money they have received and from whom.

The signing of the protocol in Rome also comes two days after the European Union criticized Russia for its handling of unrest in Chechnya, and urged it to try harder to find a lasting and peaceful resolution to the conflict, reports the AP. N.U.