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Key European human rights body marks 70th birthday

Foreign Minister of Finland Timo Soini, center, and Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbj'rn Jagland, right, welcome Finland's President Sauli Niinist' to the Commemoration Ceremony of the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe in Helsinki, Finland, Thursday May 16, 2019. (Martti Kainulainen/Lehtikuva via AP)

HELSINKI — Over 30 European foreign ministers have gathered in the Finnish capital to mark the 70th anniversary of the continent’s key human rights body, the Council of Europe.

The festivities were dampened by Russia’s continued threat to pull out of the organization due to a long-running dispute over Crimea.

The two-day meeting started Thursday in Helsinki’s historic Finlandia Hall, where the 1975 Helsinki Accords, meant to ease East-West Cold War tensions, were signed.

Russia, a member since 1996, has frozen funding to the Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, after the body suspended Moscow’s voting rights following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin will not attend the meeting though the host country said Kyiv would still send representatives to the gathering.

The Associated Press