Russia plans US visa blacklist in lawyer row: Kremlin

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Russia plans to place US officials on a visa blacklist in response to the United States' decision to ban entry to Russian officials linked to the prison death of a lawyer, the Kremlin said Thursday.

Washington outraged Moscow by banning visas for an unspecified number of Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky which became a symbol of abuses in the Russian judicial system.

The Russian foreign ministry warned on Wednesday that it would take "adequate measures" against the United States over the move, which it warned could damage diplomatic relations.

"I can confirm that the Russian foreign ministry, on the order of the President (Dmitry Medvedev) is working on measures against US citizens which are the same as those announced by the State Department," Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said.

She told the ITAR-TASS news agency that Russia was "bewildered" that the State Department had decided to prejudge the guilt of the officials before Moscow had completed its own investigation.

The State Department did not say what officials were on the blacklist but Magnitsky's supporters have accused senior investigators of deliberately allowing him to die in a bid to silence the lawyer.

Magnitsky, 37, died in the Matrosskaya Tishina jail in Moscow of untreated pancreatitis after being held in pre-trial detention in a complex fraud case for 11 months.

The council that advises Medvedev on rights said Magnitsky was likely beaten in jail and criticised the fact that the very investigators the lawyer had accused of fraud charged him with the same crimes and led the case against him.

But so far criminal probes have only been opened against the doctor and deputy head of the Butyrskaya prison in Moscow where Magnitsky had been held for several months.

The Kommersant daily said the State Department had issued the blacklist in a bid to take the sting out of even tougher sanctions against Russian officials proposed by US lawmakers but the move appeared to have backfired.

© 2011 AFP

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