MOSCOW, March 1 (RIA Novosti correspondent) - Russia advocates universal observance of ethnic minorities' rights, Russia's acting Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in an article "European Standards Should Be the Same for All," published on Monday in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

"Respecting the rights of ethnic minorities in its own country and strictly following international standards in this respect, Russia is, naturally, entitled to ask that the same attitude should be shown to its expatriates. It is not concerned with any special privileges or exceptions. On the contrary, we want norms generally accepted in Europe regarding ethnic minorities to be fully implemented," Ivanov says.

"Unfortunately, our legitimate calls remain unheeded in Latvia. References to history cannot serve as the basis for stripping hundreds of thousands of the Russian population of their elementary rights when Latvia is about to join the European Union and NATO," the acting minister noted.

According to him, "the need for 'integration' of the Russian-speaking population is served up by Latvia's current leadership as though this population does not constitute part of Latvian society, but is an alien element without any grounds to claim the amount of rights which is stipulated by the framework convention of the Council of Europe on ethnic minorities." "Having signed this convention before joining the Council of Europe, Latvia has been postponing its ratification year after year. Paradoxically, Russian speakers in Latvia as a language minority enjoy now far less rights than before Latvia joined the Council of Europe," Ivanov indicated.

He said that the number of permanent citizens of Latvia with the status of "non-citizen" today reaches almost half a million people - more than 20 per cent of the country's inhabitants. "Not only in Europe, but also in the world you will find no such examples," Ivanov remarked.

"The rate of naturalization, despite a slight surge in the past few months, has remained on the whole slow - in 2003 only 10,000 people obtained citizenship. It is easy to see how many decades it will take for the remaining 'non-citizens' to formalize their citizenship if Latvia's leadership does not show the political will in order drastically to solve this problem," Ivanov said.

"The situation with language rights afforded to our expatriates in Latvia is causing legitimate concern in Russia. It can hardly be considered normal when members of the Russian-speaking community making up to 40 per cent of Latvia's population cannot apply to municipalities in their mother tongue even where they live in compact groups," Ivanov stressed.

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