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Austrian police given small gifts after protecting Russian Embassy, told to reject them in future

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BERLIN (AP) — Austrian police officers who provided security around the Russian Embassy on the day of that country’s presidential election were given small presents as they left, Vienna police said Tuesday. Police were told to reject such gifts in the future.

Receiving the gifts from the Russians — paper bags containing low-value items such as calendars and boxes of chocolates — didn’t constitute misconduct under the service law for Austrian civil servants, the Vienna police department said in an email responding to questions about local media’s reporting on the issue.

But it “leaves an unwanted impression that does not do justice to the professional approach of the officers at the scene,” the department added. This, it said, was pointed out to officers and they were instructed to “reject in a friendly but firm way such courtesies, even if only of a low value, in the future.”

Russians living abroad stood in line to vote at Russian embassies and consulates in several European cities on March 17, the last day of the highly orchestrated presidential election that gave Vladimir Putin another six-year term.

A few days earlier, the Austrian government had announced that it was ordering two diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Vienna to leave the country, and an official said the expulsions were related to spying activities.

Vienna police were posted to protect the embassy on March 17. The police department said that officers were in contact with embassy employees and occasionally entered the building.

The Austria Press Agency reported that, after the last voters left the embassy that evening, at least six officers from the police and another department followed, at least three of them carrying gift bags with a Russian emblem. According to the report, one officer said police went in and out of the building to use the toilets.

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