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SLUG: 2-297058 Denmark / Russia (L)









INTRO: Denmark has rejected a Russian request for the extradition of a Chechen rebel envoy wanted by Moscow on terrorism charges. As we hear from Peter Heinlein in Copenhagen, Russia immediately denounced the Danish decision.

TEXT: The Danish Justice Ministry Tuesday ordered that 43 year old Ahmed Zakayev be set free. Mr. Zakayev, an aide to Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, had spent more than a month in a Copenhagen jail while authorities studied evidence sent from Moscow allegedly linking him to terrorist acts from 1996 to 1999.

In announcing the decision, a justice ministry spokesman described Russia's evidence as insufficient. He said Mr. Zakayev had been released at an undisclosed location, and is free to travel as he chooses.

Russia reacted angrily to the decision, calling it political. The Interfax news agency quoted Russian Justice Minister Yuri Chaika as saying that it appears political aspects have prevailed over legal ones. He said the evidence Moscow supplied was more than sufficient for Mr. Zakayev's extradition.

Mr. Zakayev was detained by Danish police October 30th after attending a conference of Chechen exiles and human rights experts in Copenhagen. A warrant sent from Moscow through Interpol originally accused the actor and former Chechen culture minister of suspected involvement in the recent Moscow theater siege, but that charge was later dropped.

Under Danish law, Russia was given 30 days to provide evidence to back up the extradition request. During that time, Danish authorities several times warned Russia that the evidence contained errors and discrepancies, and asked for clarifications.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told reporters Tuesday he did not expect the decision to lead to any deterioration of Danish-Russian relations. Danish officials noted, however, that Russian President Vladimir Putin had threatened to boycott a Russia-European summit slated for Copenhagen last month to protest Denmark's decision to allow the Chechen conference to be held in Copenhagen. Mr. Putin attended only after the summit was moved to Brussels. (Signed)


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