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Liberals Give Police Tips on Reforming

President Dmitry Medvedev's police reforms will turn into a sham if the public is excluded from the process and other law enforcement agencies are left untouched, opposition politicians and human rights activists said Thursday.

“It is impossible to reform the Interior Ministry without reforming the prosecutor's office and the justice system,” Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin said at a round table organized by the Moscow police to discuss the reforms with the public.

Medvedev ordered Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev this week to draft proposals on the reforms.

Police officers must learn how to serve the public rather than the state, several activists argued Thursday.

“There should be the people's police and no one else's,” said Valery Gabisov, head of the Association for the Humanization of Law Enforcement, a public watchdog.

Mitrokhin questioned Medvedev's orders late last year to reduce the country's 1.2 million-member police force by 20 percent by 2012, saying, “the cutting of force should not be done for the sake of cutting.” Mitrokhin referred to the recent sacking of Deputy Interior Minister

Nikolai Ovchinnikov, whom he described as a “professional” who cooperated with civil rights groups.

Several human rights activists, including Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group, signed an open letter Thursday asking that Ovchinnikov be reinstated to office.

Activists also agreed Thursday that the Interior Ministry should undergo a broad and transparent drive to clean the ranks of corruption rather than a mere personnel cut.

Despite their doubts about the effectiveness of planned police reforms, activists said many police officers would welcome working under honest commanders who did not require them to carry out illegal orders.

“Policemen are reluctant to disperse demonstrators and carry out illegal orders,” said Alexeyeva, who was briefly detained by Moscow police during a New Year's Eve rally that called for the right to free public assembly.

The issues raised at Thursday's meeting will be passed on to Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev and Interior Minister Nurgaliyev, Moscow police spokesman Viktor Birukov told The Moscow Times.

"Many constructive ideas were proposed during the meeting, and there is evidence that human rights activists want to change police for the better," he said.

Corrupt police officers have become the bane of businesses and private citizens alike. Medvedev has made the fight against corruption one of the hallmarks of his presidency. In 2008, he ushered legislation into law that limits checks by police officers and various other government inspectors on businesses in an attempt to curb widespread bribery and nourish small and midsized companies.

The number of checks on businesses has dropped by 25 percent, a senior Interior Ministry official, Andrei Lapin, told reporters Thursday.

Vladislav Korochkin, deputy head of the Opora association of small and midsized businesses, said 54 percent of its members confirmed in a recent survey that the passage of the law had made it easier for them to do business.

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