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Merkel, Putin clash on human rights at Kremlin meeting

President Vladimir Putin of Russia addressed German leader Angela Merkel in Moscow.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

President Vladimir Putin of Russia addressed German leader Angela Merkel in Moscow.

MOSCOW — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin clashed over human rights and democracy Friday as they struggled to show a united front amid rising criticism from Germany.

Merkel, speaking alongside Putin in the Kremlin, said she was irritated by Russian laws clamping down on political groups and condemned the sentencing of members of the band Pussy Riot. Putin countered with accusations of gender inequality in Germany and discord in the European Union.

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Still, both leaders sought to see beyond the tensions even as the meeting exposed fissures between Germany, which is bankrolling the European debt crisis as the region’s largest economy, and Russia, the world’s largest energy exporter.

‘‘My plea is not to see every criticism right away as destructive,’’ Merkel said at the German-Russian Petersburg Dialogue. ‘‘Our friendship won’t be better, our economic cooperation won’t be better, if we sweep everything under the carpet and only say when we’re of a single opinion.’’

She is in Moscow for the first time since Putin returned to Russia’s highest office in May. The trip follows a resolution passed last week in Germany’s lower house, or Bundestag, which criticizes Putin’s handling of opposition groups.

‘‘Our relations cannot be said to be in a dark atmosphere,’’ Putin said. ‘‘We have different views, we argue, we look for compromises, but this not a gloomy atmosphere.’’

Lawmakers from five of the six parties in the Bundestag voted to condemn treatment of opposition figures and civil- society groups in Russia, such as this year’s prison sentences for members of Pussy Riot. Merkel did not shy away from addressing the issue alongside Putin.

‘‘If we look at something like Pussy Riot, which has played a big role in the public sphere — then we say, OK, that would also launch a big discussion if something like this happened in a church,’’ Merkel said.

‘‘But if somebody has to end up as a young woman for two years in a labor camp, I don’t — it wouldn’t have been that way in Germany at least.’’

Putin accused a band member of participating in an anti-Semitic protest in the Russian capital, saying that Merkel knew too few of the details.

The German leader, a Russian speaker who grew up in Soviet- dominated communist East Germany, insisted that the two sides should be able to take constructive criticism. Putin, who served as a a KGB officer in the East German city of Dresden during the Cold War, speaks fluent German.

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