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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Community Leaders Catch a Glimpse of the President

U.S. President George W. Bush took a short break from talks and walks in the Kremlin on Friday to address politicians, religious leaders and human rights advocates, some of whom have been overtly critical of President Vladimir Putin.

"In Soviet times, people heroically defended [democratic] rights with incredible courage, and you earned the respect of a lot of people ... by doing so," Bush told about 80 community leaders gathered at Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. ambassador. "I applaud your commitment and your patriotism. I love the fact that you love your country. I love mine and you love yours, and that's incredibly healthy and important."

Speaking for about 20 minutes, Bush praised Russia's progress "on the road to democracy" and stressed the importance of rule of law, human rights and independent media.

The U.S. president avoided any criticism of Putin, who has been accused by rights activists of clamping down on free press and flouting human rights throughout the military campaign in Chechnya.

The Russian guests were not able to ask questions or make comments, although Bush shook hands with many of them after his speech.

No full list of guests was available Sunday, but Interfax reported that the group included politicians Grigory Yavlinsky, Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada, Mikhail Margelov and Dmitry Rogozin; Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders; prominent rights activists and journalists; and political analysts Sergei Markov and Gleb Pavlovsky.

Izvestia quoted U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow as describing the guests by saying, "None of them has an office in the Kremlin, but each is a friend of the United States."