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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 12:34 GMT
Senior Chechen envoy held
Akhmed Zakayev
Zakayev is the Chechen exiles' senior envoy
A court in Denmark has ordered a leading official of the ousted Chechen Government to be held in prison for two weeks, as Russia seeks his extradition.

Akhmed Zakayev, an envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, was detained in Copenhagen where he was attending the World Chechen Congress.

Russians protest against Denmark holding the Chechen conference
Russia strongly objected to Denmark holding the conference
He is suspected by Russia of being involved in last week's siege by Chechen rebels of a theatre in Moscow, and of participating in other "terrorist acts" between 1996 and 1999.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen denied that the authorities had detained Mr Zakayev in response to Russian political pressure.

"I would find it very alarming if a government or an opposition interfered in the work of the police," he said.

The information which Danish police received from Moscow on Tuesday about Mr Zakayev alleged involvement in criminal activities had been "sufficient foundation" for the detention, said Mr Rasmussen.

Russia had been furious that the World Chechen Congress had gone ahead at all, and next month's summit between President Vladimir Putin and European Union government leaders has been moved to Brussels from Copenhagen.

President Putin has also cancelled his state visit to Denmark.

Death penalty

A key issue in future hearings will be the death penalty, because Danish law forbids extradition to any country which carries out death sentences.

Chechen rebel arrested after Moscow theatre siege
Russia has cracked down on suspected Chechen militants
Russia has had a moratorium on executions since 1996, but the death penalty has not been formally abolished.

"Despite Russia's moves to declare a moratorium on the death penalty, the handover of a person to Russia is not a simple matter because in Russia the death penalty is still applicable," said Denmark's ambassador in Moscow, Lars Vissing.

The Russian authorities will now have 30 days to make an official extradition request, which will then be considered by the courts in Denmark.

Moscow arrests

Mr Zakayev's arrest came after police in Moscow detained 30 people, including security officials and political advisers, who are believed to have helped the Chechen rebels.

About 50 Chechen gunmen and women held 800 people hostage for three days until the theatre was stormed by Russian special forces - an operation that left more than 100 hostages and about 50 hostage-takers dead.

Russian Interior Minister, Boris Gryzlov, said his forces were involved in an "unprecedented operation" to identify what he described as a terrorist network in Moscow and the surrounding region.

Seized at hotel

There was a heavy police guard at the court, where Mr Zakayev appeared on Wednesday morning, after being arrested at his hotel in the early hours.

Ordering his detention for 14 days, Judge Lisbeth Christensen said there was a danger that Mr Zakayev would escape.

Mr Zakayev is the most senior foreign spokesman for exiled Chechen President Maskhadov, holding the posts of deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

Last November, he held talks with the Russian Government, at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, on the situation in Chechnya.

Moscow officials described those talks as "cordial and constructive" at the time.

Appeal to Putin

Danish organisers of the World Chechen Congress have reacted with anger to the news of Mr Zakayev's arrest.

One, Thomas Larsen, said the burden of proof was non-existent.

He described it as a ploy by the Russians, who by definition classed all Chechens as terrorists.

The two-day congress, which ended on Tuesday, brought together Chechens and Russian human rights activists with the declared aim of ending the war in the breakaway Russian republic.

But Moscow claimed there were a number of known terrorists taking part in the meeting and accused the conservative Danish Government of failing to fulfil its obligations in the international war against terrorism.

The congress ended by sending an open letter to President Putin, appealing for an immediate halt to the war in Chechnya.

"The Chechen people are being eliminated by Russian forces and you are the commander in chief," the letter said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Lisa Hampele
"In Russia people are still learning to cope with grief"
Netherlands Chechen representative Aslanbek Kadiev
denies that Akhmed Zakayev had anything to do with the Moscow attack
Dr Tamora Dragadze, Caucacus expert
"It's going to be difficult to find any organised links at all"

Siege reports

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Chechen conflict

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30 Oct 02 | Europe
30 Oct 02 | Media reports
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