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Dutch Diplomat Beaten in Moscow

by Lynn Berry
Wednesday Oct 16, 2013

A Dutch diplomat was beaten up by two unidentified men who barged into his apartment in central Moscow, an attack that threatened to further sour relations between the two countries following the arrest of a Russian diplomat in the Netherlands. Russia was quick to express its regrets on Wednesday.

The Investigative Committee said Wednesday in a statement that it was investigating the attack on the diplomat, who was pushed to the floor and tied up with tape.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a post on his Facebook page that the diplomat was slightly injured in the assault on Tuesday night. Timmermans said he had summoned the Russian ambassador for an explanation.

"Our people have to be able to work safely, and I want guarantees that the Russian authorities will accept their responsibilities on that point," the minister wrote. He did not name the diplomat.

The Russian Foreign Ministry identified the Dutch diplomat as Onno Elderenbosch, the deputy chief of mission at the Moscow embassy.

"In Moscow we express our regrets in connection with the deplorable incident," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement. He said Russian investigators would do everything possible to find those responsible.

The arrest of Russian diplomat Dmitry Borodin in The Hague on Oct. 5 caused outrage in Moscow. Timmerman later apologized to Russia, but he also defended the actions of the police who had arrested Borodin. Police have declined to comment on the incident. Dutch state broadcaster NOS reported that police had traced a car involved in an accident that day to Borodin's home, and neighbors told police they were worried for the safety of the children inside.

The incidents involving the Russian and Dutch diplomats, both the No. 2 in their respective embassies, come at a time of growing tensions between the two countries over Russia's seizure of a Dutch-flagged Greenpeace ship and Russia's anti-gay laws.

Russia's state television showed photos obtained by the news website Lifenews, known for having good sources in Russian law enforcement, that it said were taken inside the Dutch diplomat's apartment, including one showing a heart written in lipstick on a mirror with the Russian letters LGBT beneath it. LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

The Dutch have been outspoken in their criticism of Russia's anti-gay policies. In April, the Amsterdam mayor expressed his opposition by declining to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to the Netherlands. And in August, Dutch gay groups held a protest ahead of a major concert by Russian state musicians and dancers.

It was impossible to independently verify the authenticity of the photo.

The Netherlands and Russia chose 2013 as a year to celebrate historical ties, but it has been filled with tension instead.

The new Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, is due to visit Russia and meet with Putin in November, but some in the Netherlands suggest he should reconsider.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters at Parliament that he wants to establish the facts of the attack in Moscow as soon as possible and would not speculate about the king's visit to Russia. "What has happened is extremely serious," he said. "But first we need to get the facts on the table."

The top Dutch gay rights organization, COC, condemned the attack.

"It is terrible for the person involved and appears to be another expression of the swiftly deteriorating climate for LGBTs in Russia," COC chairperson Tanja Ineke said in a statement. She urged the king to go ahead with his visit to Russia and to raise the issue of human and gay rights with Putin.

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