Chechen separatist leader refused Polish visa

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EU member Poland has refused to issue a visa to exiled Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, who is wanted by Moscow on terrorism charges, his lawyer Radoslaw Baszuk said on Tuesday.

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters the decision was "well thought out, firm and independent," and was not made under pressure from either Russia or Zakayev.

Zakayev had asked for the visa in order to conclude the legal formality of attending a hearing in a Warsaw court scheduled for Thursday on his appeal of a Russian extradition request for him.

A Polish court decided December 23 not to pursue the Russian request, ruling that proceedings should be halted because Zakayev, who was detained briefly in Poland in September, was no longer in the country.

Moscow wants Zakayev to answer charges of terrorism, but he has flatly denied any link to Chechen rebel attacks in Russia.

Zakayev, who has political refugee status in Britain, was detained in Poland on a Russian extradition warrant on September 17 when he arrived in Warsaw for a congress of Chechen exiles.

He opted to travel to Poland even though Warsaw had warned that he risked arrest.

He was released after several hours and allowed to return to Britain, without having to provide any legal guarantee that he would come back to Poland for further legal proceedings.

On October 19, Russia issued a fresh international arrest warrant for him.

Zakayev was the European representative of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, who died fighting Russian forces in 2005, and went on to become "foreign minister" in Chechnya's unrecognised government-in-exile.

Moscow has fought two devastating wars with separatists in Muslim-majority Chechnya since 1994.

It is now battling an Islamist-fuelled insurgency there and in the neighbouring regions of the North Caucasus.

© 2011 AFP

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