Students Back British Council

APA demonstrator holding a sign supporting the British Council outside the British Consulate in St. Petersburg on Friday.
ST. PETERSBURG -- As students demonstrated in St. Petersburg on Friday in support of the British Council, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown renewed his criticism of Moscow's decision to order the council to suspend operations in the city and Yekaterinburg.

Council workers have "been effectively thrown out of the important work they are doing in spite of an international treaty that offers them the right to work there," Brown said at a policy forum at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

The British Council is an organization that acts as Britain's cultural arm abroad. The Foreign Ministry ordered the council's offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg to close this year, saying the council was permitted an office only in Moscow.

About 25 people, mostly students, demonstrated Friday outside St. Petersburg's British Consulate. They hung placards on the consulate fence with slogans including "Great Britain Forever!" and "Russian and British Winnie the Poohs are Friends."

"We came here to support the policy of Great Britain that is directed at building friendly relations with Russia and to reject the new iron curtain that seems to again be appearing in Russia," said demonstrator Oleg Mukhin, 19.

The orders to suspend operations came as tensions were high between London and Russia over Russia's refusal to extradite the main suspect in the 2006 poisoning murder in London of dissident former security agent Alexander Litvinenko.

Brown said Friday that Britain could not "do nothing or stand by" as Moscow refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi. He did not elaborate on what Britain might do if Russia continued to block the extradition.

Britain's Foreign Office has said it is continuing to press Moscow over the case.

Brown said Britain hoped, however, to improve relations with the Kremlin.

"In many spheres we are working very closely together, such as on Iran and many of the issues that will appear at the G8 in July," he said.