Russia blasts Latvia for ratifying minorities pact but keeping language restrictions

Russia's foreign minister on Friday blasted Latvia's parliament for requiring all street signs and local governments to use the Latvian language, even as the legislature ratified a European convention on minorities.

Speaking during visit to the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, Sergey Lavrov said Latvian lawmakers' decision to keep the language restrictions as they passed the Council of Europe pact was a "profanation of all obligations that Latvia has allegedly taken upon itself."

He also said a declaration passed by lawmakers saying the convention only applies to Latvian citizens living in the Baltic country effectively made non-citizens out of thousands of ethnic Russians.

"There is no need to prove that all this goes against European norms and standards," Lavrov said in televised comments.

Russian-speakers make up around one-third of the population in Latvia, which is a member of the European Union. Moscow routinely accuses Latvia and another Baltic state, Estonia, of discriminating against Russian-speakers.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Russia's lower house of parliament unanimously passed legislation setting up a commission to protect the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in foreign countries.

The State Duma also overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the three Baltic states, along with Poland, for what it called "attempts at gross distortions of history and 'insertion' of amended versions of the reasons and results of the Second World War into the present political context."

In the run-up to this month's celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, several former Soviet bloc countries called on Russia to formally acknowledge the nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation and apologize. Moscow's view is that the Baltics had invited the Soviet troops and that the Soviet Army liberated the Baltics from the Nazis.

"This is a political project that is being developed ... within the framework of the general tendency to isolate Russia and oust it from Europe's backyard," said Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of Duma's international affairs committee.

MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer

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