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The BBC's Flora Botsford
"The suspension could bring down a new iron curtain across Europe"
 real 28k

The BBC's Oana Lungescu reports
"The move is unprecedented in the 50-year history of the council"
 real 28k

Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 19:53 GMT 20:53 UK
Council vote prompts Russia walkout
Russian delegate
Tempers rose as voting took place
Delegates came to blows as the Council of Europe voted on Thursday to begin suspension proceedings against Russia unless it substantially improves human rights in Chechnya by the end of May.

The decision prompted an immediate walkout by a furious Russian delegation whose leader, Dmitry Rogozin, had earlier warned that any such move would bring down a new "Iron Curtain" across Europe.

The vote sparked angry scenes during which a Russian delegate traded blows with a special envoy of the Chechen leadership.

"We are not able to participate in the work of the parliamentary assembly in the Council of Europe. We regret that this has happened," Mr Rogozin announced, seconds after the vote.

Facts about the Council of Europe
Set up in 1949
Goal to promote human rights and democracy
Soviet bloc excluded until fall of Communism
Russia became a member in 1996
The 41-nation council called on member governments to take action if Russia did not call a complete ceasefire in Chechnya and start peace talks with Chechen rebel leaders.

It has asked government ministers to report back to them on the situation in June.

The vote was approved by a clear two-thirds majority.


Council members said it was unlikely this would happen, but said the vote would embarrass Russia's President-elect Vladimir Putin, who has staked his career on the Chechen campaign.

Russian tanks
Russian forces are still trying to quell rebel resistance
Russia has denied committing human rights abuses in the breakaway republic, saying its troops were only responding to what it called terrorist attacks.

Russian officials had warned that any suspension would bring down a new Iron Curtain across Europe and end any chance of dialogue over the Caucasus republic.

"I don't think the Council of Europe will suspend Russia's membership, or exclude Russia from the Council of Europe," said Russian Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov.

"It would not be very far-sighted, because then Europe would be hanging up an iron curtain separating Russia from Europe."

A European Union delegation, including the foreign policy chief, Javier Solana and external relations commissioner Chris Patten, is due to arrive in Moscow shortly to help rebuild relations.

Symbolic move

Any suspension from the organisation's assembly would be largely symbolic, as it would only apply until the next Council of Europe session in June.

The West has repeatedly called on Russia to negotiate an end to the seven-month-long war, but Moscow has said it will not hold peace talks until the rebels are wiped out.

Ruslan Alikhadzhiyev, speaker of the Chechen parliament, said: "If Russia refuses to talk, the war will last for decades."

Mary Robinson
Robinson: Call for independent inquiry

On Wednesday, UN human rights chief Mary Robinson called for an independent probe into alleged Russian war atrocities in Chechnya.

Mrs Robinson told a UN meeting in Geneva that Russian troops had committed serious abuses.

"The scale of serious allegations of gross human rights violations warrants international attention and concern," she said.

Vladimir Kalamanov, Russia's human rights envoy for Chechnya, reacted coolly, saying Russia might set up its own inquiry, but that there would not be a lot to investigate.

"As events have shown, crimes by servicemen in Chechnya are more an exception than a rule," he said.

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04 Apr 00 | Europe
Chechen visit a mixed success
03 Apr 00 | Europe
Russia attacks UN rights chief
02 Apr 00 | Europe
Robinson ruffles Russia
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