MOSCOW (AFP) — Russia's human rights ombudsman on Friday criticised a decision by Russian authorities to close two regional branches of the British Council on January 1 in a mounting dispute.
"I don't like it," Vladimir Lukin was quoted by Interfax as saying.
"If the authorities think there are some sort of legal violations in the work of the British Council then we should work on resolving them," he said.
Lukin also criticised the "politicisation" of cultural activities.
British authorities have vowed to keep the offices of the government-supported cultural organisation open beyond January 1 and Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday slammed the decision by Russian authorities as "totally unacceptable."
The dispute is likely to exacerbate already strained ties between London and Moscow after the radiation poisoning murder of former KGB agent and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London last year.
Russia has declined to extradite the main suspect identified by British authorities in the murder, Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard who is now a member of parliament with the nationalist LDPR party.
The British Council has been in conflict for years with the Russian government over alleged irregularities in its legal status.
It currently has two regional branches in Yekaterinburg and Saint Petersburg, down from 15 three years ago.
Moscow claims that as a profit-making entity, the British Council is subject to taxes on its revenue. British officials maintain the council is a cultural part of Britain's embassy and as such has diplomatic immunity.
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