Polish, Latvian officials barred from entering Russia for Nemtsov funeral

Warsaw (AFP) - Senior Polish and Latvian officials who sought to attend the Moscow funeral of slain Russian opposition activist Boris Nemtsov said Monday they had been denied entry into Russia on the eve of the ceremony.

A Polish foreign ministry spokesman said Senate speaker Bogdan Borusewicz was refused entry by Moscow in retaliation for EU sanctions against Russia's upper house of parliament speaker Valentina Matviyenko.

Latvian MEP Sandra Kalniete told AFP she had been refused entry into Russia at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, but was not given a reasonable explanation for the ban.

"After two hours of waiting they told me I was refused entry into Russia according to their codex paragraph 27, point 1. I asked what exactly does that paragraph say and no one was able to answer," Kalniete said via telephone, speaking from the airport where she said she would have to spend the night.

"Since I have always taken a clear and explicit language on Russia's role in Ukraine, I had suspicions that it could happen," she said, terming the ban "insulting" to both Latvia at the European People's Party (EPP) which she also represents.

"I feel really proud to be labelled an enemy of Russia today. Russia in its current state does not have many friends," Kalniete said, adding that she had met Nemtsov on his visits to the European Parliament.

Latvia's former foreign minister said she would fly back to Brussels on Tuesday.

Nemtsov, 55, was shot dead on Friday while walking across a bridge just a short distance from the Kremlin, in one of the most shocking political assassinations of President Vladimir Putin's rule.

His funeral is to be held Tuesday in the Russian capital's Troekurovskoye cemetery.

Poland's Borusewicz, a key communist-era dissident and founding member of Poland's anti-regime Solidarity movement, said he was "shocked" by the ban slapped on him by Moscow.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, also once a leading Solidarity opposition figure, said the decision to refuse entry to "an icon of Poland's struggle for democracy" like Borusewicz was "difficult to understand and accept."

Komorowski told Polish media he would be represented at Tuesday's funeral ceremonies by senior advisor Jan Litynski, and that Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Pawlik would represent the Polish government.

"Russia has lost a great man, a great democrat and friend of Poland," Litynski told AFP of Nemtsov.

Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius will also attend Nemtsov's funeral, his spokesman told AFP.

All once under the Soviet thumb, the three countries are now members of both the EU and NATO. They have been among the most vocal critics of Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, which was followed by a pro-Russian insurgency in the east of the country.

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