Chechen leader blames Russian influence for Poland arrest

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Chechen independence leader Akhmed Zakayev on Wednesday blamed his arrest in Poland last week on Russian influence over Warsaw, but said he would return to the country to face any legal proceedings.

He described as "deeply unpleasant" his brief detention on Friday by Polish police, acting on a Russian arrest warrant accusing Zakayev of terrorism, but said he was "delighted" that a Polish court had set him free.

Shortly after Zakayev held a news conference in London, where he lives, Polish prosecutors announced Russia had issued a formal extradition request for him.

Zakayev, 51, had arrived in Poland on Thursday to attend a three-day congress of some 300 exiles from conflict-torn Chechnya.

He said it was an "absolute surprise" that he was arrested the following day, given that he had been in Poland several times in August, although he admitted he had been warned of the risk.

"I took the initiative to meet with the Polish authorities before my so-called arrest, but I faced a deeply unpleasant detention as I waited to see what would prevail -- the rule of law, or political pressure by Russia, with the threat of two months in custody hanging over me," he said.

"I am absolutely delighted that the Polish authorities rightly saw through the baseless allegations of request for my extradition.

"I believe that this now finally invalidates Russia's Interpol warrant against me, and simply exposes their illegitimate campaign to cover up the denial of democracy and human rights abuses against the Chechen people."

Zakayev said he was happy to return to face any further legal proceedings against him.

"Any time the Polish prosecutor wants to meet me, I must go to Poland and I will do it," he said.

He said his travel visa had expired, and he had discussed getting a new one with Polish embassy officials in London on Tuesday.

Zakayev insisted there was nothing new in Russia's case against him. The Polish government "could have ignored the request", he added.

But he said he understood that Warsaw was trying to rebuild it ties with its giant neighbour.

"I think I have become just another victim of the political games that both Polish and Russian governments have been playing," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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