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Russia stands strong on minority rights in Baltic - diplomat - 1

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MOSCOW, May 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will continue to press at an official level for human rights, particularly those of ethnic minorities, to be observed in Latvia and Estonia, a senior Russian diplomat said Friday.

Many in the two Baltic states' large ethnically Russian population have been given "non-citizen" status, which denies them an automatic passport and other rights. Russia has repeatedly called for ethnic Russians to be given the same rights as others.

"It is a matter of principle that Russia develops its relations with other countries depending on whether they are ready to take into account Russia's interests, including the rights and legitimate interests of Russians living in these countries," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said at a conference in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

Karasin said that there could not be two opinions on the matter, and that Russia, which Friday takes over presidency of the Council of Europe, would not stand aside when human rights are violated.

"We abide by the internationally acknowledged principle of universal human rights, which establishes that observance of human rights, including those of ethnic minorities, is not just the internal matter of a country," he said.

"Non-citizen" status does not exist under EU law, or under the Schengen Treaty, an agreement among European countries on common immigration policies and a border system.

Karasin praised the example of Lithuania, which granted citizenship rights to all of its population and unconditionally ratified the EU Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and criticized Latvia and Estonia for ratifying the Convention with certain reservations.

The diplomat said Rolf Ekeus, the OSCE Higher Commissar on National Minorities, had called on Latvia in April to provide equal rights both to minorities who have been living in the country for a long time, and for those who arrived within the last decade.

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