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Russia seeks legal settlement of British Council dispute

By Xinhua

Moscow : Russia hopes for a legal resolution of the dispute with Britain that has caused the closing of part of the British Council, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

“Russia is for a legal resolution of the problem related to the British Council,” Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quoted Lavrov as saying Sunday.

“We will present the legal arguments showing that the British Council in Russia has no legal basis,” he said.

Russia in December ordered the closure of two regional offices of the British Council in Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg from the beginning of 2008, citing illegal status and tax problems. However, the two British Council offices reopened last Monday after a holiday break.

Russia called the reopening of British Council offices a “deliberate provocation” and vowed to take new measures against the British cultural body.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Thursday Russia’s actions on British Council were “reprehensible” and “a stain on Russia’s reputation”.

“Russia has failed to show any legal reasons under Russian or international law why the British Council should not continue to operate.” said Miliband, adding: “It has also failed to substantiate its claims that the British Council is avoiding paying tax”.

British cultural officials said Russia’s decision to shut down the British Council offices that promote cultural links and arrange educational exchanges was politically motivated. But Moscow denied the claim.

Ties between Moscow and London have been bruised by the dispute over the November 2006 poisoning of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in July last year due to Russia’s refusal to extradite a main suspect in the case, Andrei Lugovoi, who was accused of murdering Litvinenko. Russia also expelled four British diplomats.