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German Chancellor Warns Moscow on Human Rights

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that her country's dependence on Russian energy will not prevent her from criticizing Russia's human rights record. Ms. Merkel made the comments during a visit to Budapest, where she also discussed the future of Kosovo, the predominantly ethnic-Albanian province of Serbia. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest.

Energy issues were high on the agenda during German Chancellor Merkel's one-day visit to Hungary. There is growing unease in Germany, as well as in former Soviet satellite states, about their dependence on Russian oil and gas supplies.

Russia has in the past suspended energy shipments to some customers.

Germany receives roughly 30 percent of its natural gas from Russia and imports around 100 million tons of crude oil a year. Rights groups claim this dependence makes it difficult for Germany to take a stand on rights issues in Russia.

But after talks with Hungarian officials, Chancellor Merkel said Germany, as Europe's largest economy, would not allow trade relations to interfere with its efforts to support democratic reforms in Russia.

"Of course, energy relations are part of our relationship with Russia. But that doesn't mean we don't have the opportunity to give our opinion about certain developments," she said. "Just as the Russian president often criticizes us, we will also criticize Russia when we believe that certain human rights are not respected."

In addition to discussing energy issues, the German leader also spoke with Hungarian officials about the tense province of Kosovo, where the ethnic-Albanian majority seeks independence from Serbia.

Chancellor Merkel said she wanted to give the Russian, German and American negotiators time to resolve the status of Kosovo.

"We want, and this is also the opinion of the European Union, the negotiations to lead to a solution, which is both in the interest of Serbia and of Kosovo," she said. "That's why we will do our best to reach an agreement within the next 100 days," the chancellor adds.

Ms. Merkel said Hungary will also play a key role in the process. Not only is Hungary a neighbor of Serbia, but many ethnic-Hungarians also live in Serbia.

Some tensions remain between Germany and Hungary, including accusations that Hungarian workers are mistreated in Germany and charges of illegal dumping by German companies in Hungary.

Hungary's prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, says he hopes these difficulties will be overcome because Germany and Hungary now have a good relationship. He says that never since the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy has there been a country with which we have such a close relationship. Mr. Gyurcsany says Hungary hopes to increase this cooperation in economic, political and scientific areas."