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Bill retaliating against US moves ahead in Russia

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian legislators have given initial approval to a bill that would impose sanctions on Americans accused of human rights violations.

The measure, whose first reading in the lower house of parliament passed by a vote of 431-2, is a response to an American bill that President Barack Obama signed into law later Friday.

The U.S. measure opens new export opportunities for Americans wanting to do business in Russia. But one section would punish Russian officials accused of human rights violations.

The Russian bill does not specify what criteria would be used to assess human rights violations, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said targets could include people who abuse adopted Russian children and people responsible for the creation of secret prisons.

Soon after Obama signed the U.S. bill into law, the ministry issued a withering statement calling it "odious" and "blatant interference in our internal affairs."

Speaking to reporters in Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell rejected Russia's attempt to turn the tables at the U.S.

"I think it stretches the imagination to see an equal and reciprocal situation here," Ventrell said. "The issue of adoption is one that we've worked very hard with the Russians. Something that we've looked at carefully, but we just reject any attempt at this trying to make a reciprocal comparison."

The U.S. law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested by police officials he accused of a $230 million tax fraud. He was repeatedly denied medical treatment and in 2009 died in jail. Russian rights groups accused the Kremlin of failing to prosecute those responsible. Moreover, the officials that Magnitsky accused of fraud went on to be promoted.

Ventrell said that Moscow's attempted reciprocity came "sadly instead of taking action to bring justice for Mr. Magnitsky." ''We continue to call on Russia to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for the crimes committed against Mr. Magnitsky," he added.

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