KRAKOW, Poland - Intolerant governments across the globe are "slowly crushing" activist and advocacy groups that play an essential role in the development of democracy, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday.

She cited a broad range of countries where "the walls are closing in" on civic organizations such as unions, religious groups, rights advocates and other nongovernmental organizations that press for social change and shine a light on government shortcomings. Among those, she named Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Venezuela, China and Russia.

"Some of the countries engaging in these behaviors still claim to be democracies," Clinton said at an international conference on the promotion of democracy and human rights. She noted that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the iron curtain no longer remains.

"But we must be wary of the steel vise in which governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit," she said. Social activists, she said, are being harassed, censored, cut off from funding, arrested, prosecuted or killed.

President Barack Obama, in a statement released in Washington, said the United States is particularly concerned about "the spread of restrictions on civil society, the growing use of law to curb rather than enhance freedom and widespread corruption that is undermining the faith of citizens in their governments."

Clinton recommended that the organization set up an independent means of monitoring repressive measures against social advocacy groups, and that the UN Human Rights Council do more to protect civil society. She announced that the U.S. would contribute $2 million to support the work of embattled nongovernmental groups.

Clinton expressed hope that Russia would drop its opposition to a U.S. missile defense system in Europe and accept an offer to cooperate in developing technologies for shooting down hostile weapons.

Repeating a theme Moscow consistently has rejected, Clinton said it has nothing to fear from a NATO-endorsed missile defense system based in Europe because it will be aimed at Iran's missile arsenal.

Also Saturday, Clinton laid a wreath and paid her respects at the Katyn Cross, a memorial to the nearly 100 Poles killed in an April plane crash in Russia en route to mark a Soviet massacre of Polish POWs in Katyn forest.

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