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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 16:13 GMT
Denmark frees top Chechen envoy
Activists hold pro-Chechen slogans as they picket outside the Danish Embassy in Moscow
Mr Zakayev's detention has aroused strong feelings
Denmark has released leading Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev, after rejecting a request from Russia to extradite him on terrorism charges.


The decision is that an extradition cannot take place based on the material available

Danish justice ministry
The Danish justice ministry said in a statement that it had not received enough evidence from Moscow to justify handing over Mr Zakayev, a senior envoy of rebel Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov.

Russian officials denounced the decision as politically motivated.

Moscow maintains that Mr Zakayev, 43, is linked to attacks on Russian civilians, including a recent theatre raid in Moscow that left about 120 hostages dead.

Mr Zakayev was arrested in Copenhagen on 30 October at the request of the Russian authorities, after he had addressed a controversial Chechen conference in the city.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says Denmark's refusal to extradite a man Russia considers a terrorist will cause further damage to an already strained relationship.

'Political decision'

"The decision is that an extradition cannot take place based on the material available," the Danish ministry said in the statement.

Akhmed Zakayev
Mr Zakayev denied any involvement in the Moscow raid

"Zakayev has been set free and may now freely leave Denmark."

Earlier, Denmark gave Russia until 30 November to present its full case against Mr Zakayev.

Last Tuesday, Russian news agency Interfax reported that prosecutors in Moscow had sent new material to Denmark related to Mr Zakayev, including information on the interrogation of a priest.

The two countries do not have an extradition treaty, but Denmark said the envoy could be handed over if the evidence against him was strong enough and there were guarantees he would not face the death penalty.

"It appears that political aspects prevailed over legal ones in that case," Russian Justice Minister Yuri Chaika was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

"Judging by Danish officials' moves to drag out the process, it was clear from the start that the Danish side didn't intend to extradite Zakayev."

Hostage drama

Last month, the Danish authorities refused to ban the Chechen conference at which Mr Zakayev was arrested, despite requests from Moscow.

The conference came immediately after a Chechen suicide squad seized a Moscow theatre, threatening to kill the 800 people inside if Russia did not withdraw its forces from Chechnya immediately.

Denmark's decision to allow the conference to go ahead prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to threaten to boycott an EU-Russia summit in Copenhagen.

He only agreed to attend it once the venue was moved to Brussels.


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See also:

03 Dec 02 | Europe
30 Oct 02 | Europe
24 Oct 02 | Europe
31 Oct 02 | Europe
30 Oct 02 | Europe
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