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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Slams Beating Of Latvia Pensioners




Russian officials lashed out Wednesday at Latvian police, who hit and shoved ethnic Russian pensioners to break up a protest rally. Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov called the use of force "disgusting" and a violation of human rights.


In the State Duma, parliament's lower house, a deputy from Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist party called the Baltic country "fascist" and the faction walked out of Wednesday's session.


NTV television showed police using rubber batons on elderly Russians who had blocked the main road outside city hall in Riga, the Latvian capital, Tuesday to demand higher pensions and better living standards.


The Latvian government reacted angrily to Moscow's accusations and police defended their actions, saying the protest was unauthorized and some of the 1,000 demonstrators had ignored orders to clear the street.


No one was reported seriously injured in the clashes.


The status of ethnic Russians in Latvia and the other Baltic countries has long been a point of contention. Russia accuses the former Soviet republics of discriminating against ethnic Russians and other Russian speakers.


Television footage of the Riga clashes, broadcast Wednesday on Russian television stations, provoked new anger in Moscow.


"The use of force against pensioners, who included women, is disgusting," Primakov was quoted by Interfax as saying.


He called it a "flagrant violation of basic human rights."


The Latvian Foreign Ministry denounced the Russian protests.


"Latvia is very surprised by the comments in Russia about what was essentially an illegal action in Riga," ministry spokesman Andrejs Pildegovics was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.


"Russia is ill-informed about the incident and the comments are just another attempt to hold onto issues of Russian foreign policy. I think such a reaction can only have a negative impact on our two countries' relations," Pildegovics said.


Police spokesman Janis Lasmanis said officers had used rubber batons only on some of the most disruptive protesters.


Demonstrators had blocked the street for nearly an hour and refused to move back.


"Initially police were instructed not to use force, but the law allows force when public order is disturbed or when instructions are not obeyed," Lasmanis said.


The mayor of the Latvian capital, Andris Berzins, said people had a right to voice their opinions, and blamed the police for failing to prevent the crowd from blocking a main road, Itar-Tass reported.


After Latvia regained its independence from Russia in 1991, hundreds of thousands of former Soviet citizens, including many of those who were born in the Baltic country after it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, have complained of discrimination.


Many ethnic Russians and other Russian speakers have been denied citizenship in Latvia and other Baltic countries. As noncitizens, they receive smaller pensions and often are barred from government jobs.


Nationalists in Russia have taken up their cause.


In parliament Wednesday, Yury Kuznetsov, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called on Duma deputies to cancel an upcoming trip to Latvia.


"Yesterday, 2,000 Russian pensioners, starving pensioners, were beaten during a demonstration," Kuznetsov said.


"We should not have relations with such a fascist country."


Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov interrupted Kuznetsov and asked him to end his remarks. LDPR deputies responded by walking out of the hall, and Seleznyov called a 30-minute break in proceedings.


The Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania regained their independence in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.


But only Lithuania, where ethnic Lithuanians make up a majority of the population, gave citizenship to everyone who was living permanently lived in the republic in 1991.


In Latvia and Estonia, only those people who were born there before the Soviet annexation in 1940, or their children, can automatically receive citizenship.