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Russia tightens Caucasus security

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Russia tightens Caucasus security

Russia's interior minister has briefed President Vladimir Putin on a new leadership structure for security forces in the North Caucasus.

Rashid Nurgaliyev said 13 senior officers had been appointed to run special anti-terror groups to prevent any repetition of the Beslan tragedy.

Mr Putin ordered a shake-up of security forces following criticism of how they handled the Beslan school siege.

Sixty-two injured children and adults from Beslan are being flown to Moscow.

The injured are being flown aboard three planes to undergo specialist treatment in Moscow hospitals.

Russia blamed the mass hostage-taking in Beslan on Chechen rebels backed by foreign Muslim militants. It has offered 300m roubles ($10m; £5.7m) for information leading to the arrest of Chechen rebel leaders Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov.

On Wednesday, the authorities in North Ossetia announced that the region's government was resigning. The republic's president, Alexander Dzasokhov, said officials guilty of failings over the Beslan disaster would be punished.

Investigation

At least 326 people were killed in last week's siege, about half of them children, and 727 were wounded, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said on Wednesday. More than 100 bodies have yet to be identified.

Mr Ustinov said the bloody climax to the siege seemed to have begun when the hostage-takers were rearranging explosives in the school gymnasium and accidentally detonated one of them.

He said the hostage-takers had gathered in a forest before on 1 September then driven to the school with a lorry and two jeeps packed with weapons and explosives.

Twelve had now been identified, he added, but gave no details of names or nationalities.

The town's children were celebrating the start of the new school year with parents and staff a week ago when they were taken hostage. The crisis ended in massive bloodshed on Friday.

Pre-emptive strikes

The Russian army's Chief of Staff, General Yuri Baluevsky, said Moscow planned to launch pre-emptive strikes on terrorist bases "in any region of the world".

A spokesman for Mr Maskhadov, Ahmed Zakayev, described the threat as a "disturbing signal for civilised countries" and said it set a dangerous precedent.

"It is a warning to other European countries that Russia may come and carry out an assassination on your soil at any moment," he said.

However, analysts said the doctrine might only be applied to former Soviet countries - such as Georgia, to the south of Chechnya, which Russia has accused of providing a haven for Chechen fighters.

The two rebel leaders attracting offers of rewards from the Federal Security Service (FSB) have been wanted by Russian authorities for years in connection with various attacks.

Mr Maskhadov was elected president of Chechnya in 1997, but Moscow now considers him a terrorist.

Mr Basayev is a Chechen field commander, accused of masterminding operations and known for his extreme brutality.

He led the first Chechen mass hostage-taking in the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk in 1995 and he claimed to have organised the seizing of a Moscow theatre in 2002, during which some 130 people died.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3640928.stm

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Putin tightens grip on security

President Vladimir Putin has ordered a drastic overhaul of the way Russia is run in the wake of a series of bombings and deadly attacks on civilians.

Mr Putin said strengthening central government control was a necessary part of the fight against terrorism.

He also announced plans to create a new federal anti-terror agency.

Mr Putin was speaking to a special cabinet meeting attended by regional governors, summoned after hundreds died in the school siege in Beslan.

Political shake-up

"The organisers and perpetrators of the terror attack are aiming at the disintegration of the state, the break-up of Russia," he told ministers, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Mr Putin admitted Russia's fight against terrorism had not been effective so far, and went on to put forward a series of radical and far-reaching reforms, including:

Plans to elect deputies of the state's lower house of parliament, the Duma, solely on a party-list basis - currently half are elected from local constituencies on a first-past-the-post basis

Regional governors to be nominated by the head of state rather than elected

A new federal commission to study the troubled North Caucasus region, at the heart of much tension

Security services to increase their international co-operation

Harsher punishments to be meted out to corrupt officials who help terrorists, for example by issuing false passports

A "Public Chamber" initiative to give Russians a forum to debate government decisions

Mr Putin also repeated that Russia had a right to take pre-emptive action to "destroy criminals in their hideouts and, if necessary, abroad".

Security has become Moscow's top concern following the school siege in Beslan and a series of bombings, says the BBC's Peter Biles in Moscow.

The new measures will almost certainly strengthen Mr Putin's own position, and further limit the power of an already weakened opposition, our correspondent adds.

The new commission on the North Caucasus - a region that includes Chechnya and the North Ossetia republic that is home to Beslan - will be headed by the government chief of staff, Dimitry Kozak, one of Mr Putin's closest allies.

Security review

Further measures under consideration include restoring the death penalty, tighter controls on foreigners and the creation of a colour-coded alert system.

The governor of the Moscow region has said he wants checks to be carried out on anyone arriving in the capital from the Caucasus.

President Putin has already ordered a review of security in the North Caucasus.

He also ordered a parliamentary investigation following criticism of how the authorities handled the three-day school siege in North Ossetia.

At least 326 people were killed, about half of them children.

The day before the siege began, at least 10 people were killed in a suspected suicide bombing outside an underground railway station in Moscow.

Another 89 people were killed last month in a suspected terror attack when two Russian planes crashed within minutes of each other.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3650966.stm

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US 'concern' over Putin measures

The US State Department has expressed concern about political changes proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin following the Beslan tragedy.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Mr Putin was in effect pulling back from democratic reforms and said he wanted to discuss the measures with Moscow.

On Monday Mr Putin called for stronger central control of the regions and an overhaul of security services.

Russia has also pledged an extra $5bn to its security services.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who announced the move on Tuesday, said the fight against terror would be a top budget priority in 2005.

Two-thirds of the money will go to the Ministry of Defence.

'Move to the rear'

Mr Powell told Reuters news agency that Moscow should balance the need to go after terrorists with a commitment to the democratic process.

"It would be not the best course of action to move in a direction which [would] be seen by the international community as moving toward the rear with respect to democratic reforms," he said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also urged Russia to "strike the right balance", while expressing Washington's solidarity with Moscow in the fight against terrorism.

Mr Putin's announcement on Monday of a series of radical and far-reaching reforms included plans to change the way Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, is elected and nominate rather than elect regional governors.

Mr Putin also repeated that Russia had a right to take pre-emptive action to "destroy criminals in their hideouts and, if necessary, abroad".

The BBC's Peter Biles, in Moscow, says new measures will almost certainly strengthen Mr Putin's own position, and further limit the power of an already weakened opposition.

'Long-term perspective'

The cash investment in the security services announced on Tuesday followed almost $70m pledged by Mr Kudrin for an anti-terrorism programme in next year's budget.

The latest funding increase will boost the Defence Ministry by a further $3.7bn while the Federal Security Service, Interior Ministry and Foreign Intelligence Service will get more than $1.7bn between them.

The money will be spent on technical support, training of specialists and recruitment of professional servicemen.

"The fight against terrorism requires a long-range perspective," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Mr Kudrin as saying.

Some extra funds will also go towards security on underground train systems.

Our correspondent says some Russian newspapers have warned that the funding - which represents a 27% increase on previous amounts - could lead to more bureaucracy rather than greater security.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3655540.stm

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Russia rejects Powell criticism

Russia has rejected criticism from the United States that reforms designed to overhaul national security could undermine democratic development.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the new measures were a domestic matter which should not concern the US.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday that Russia was in effect pulling back from democratic reforms.

The European Union's Chris Patten has backed Mr Powell's remarks, urging respect for human rights and democracy.

Mr Patten, the EU's external relations commissioner, made his remarks in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

"I hope... that the government of the Russian Federation will not conclude that the only answer to terrorism is to increase the power of the Kremlin," he said.

A day earlier Mr Powell said that he wanted to discuss the measures with Moscow.

'Strict measures'

On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a sweeping overhaul of the way Russia is run, in the wake of a series of bombings and deadly attacks on civilians.

Mr Putin said strengthening central government control was a necessary part of the fight against terrorism, following the siege of a school in Beslan, southern Russia, in which hundreds of people died.

Speaking to reporters at a meeting of former Soviet states in Kazakhstan, Mr Lavrov said Washington had no right to impose its own model of democracy on others.

The reforms were, he said, being applied within the framework of the Russian constitution and he pointed to the "strict measures" introduced by the US after the 11 September 2001 terror attacks.

"We, for our part, do not comment on the US system of presidential elections, for instance," he added.

Mr Powell told Reuters news agency that Moscow should balance the need to go after terrorists with a commitment to the democratic process.

"It would be not the best course of action to move in a direction which [would] be seen by the international community as moving toward the rear with respect to democratic reforms," he said.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher had also urged Russia to "strike the right balance", while expressing Washington's solidarity with Moscow in the fight against terrorism.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3657846.stm

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Really but america have a cheek commenting on russia.

The thumbed their nose at them when russia expressed concerns over Iraq so why should they listen to ameirc now.

You know the world needs a strong russia.

We need balance again.

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Yeltsin fears for Russia freedoms

Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin has made a veiled criticism of his successor's decision to increase his powers after the Beslan tragedy.

Mr Yeltsin said that the rolling back of democratic rights in Russia would be tantamount to victory for terrorists.

President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced plans to abolish direct elections for regional governors and change voting rules for parliament.

The plans would require changes to Mr Yeltsin's 1993 constitution.

But Mr Putin said the changes were important to bolster central authority after a series of terrorist acts in recent weeks culminating in the school siege in which more than 300 people died.

Meanwhile Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, said the chamber would discuss lifting a moratorium on the death penalty for cases of terrorism introduced by Mr Yeltsin.

"This question has been raised by many members of society, citizens and deputies," he said, adding that he supported the moratorium. "The situation compels us to return again and again to this topic."

'Shoulder to shoulder'

In an interview to be published in Friday's edition of the newspaper Moscow News, Mr Yeltsin said Russia should not move away from the spirit or the letter of the constitution he introduced in 1993, and which was approved in a national referendum.

"The stifling of freedoms and the rolling back of democratic rights will mean, among other things, that the terrorists will have won," he said.

The 73-year-old former president said he expected Russia "to stand shoulder to shoulder with other civilised nations" in the fight against terrorism.

BBC Russia analyst Stephen Dalziel says Mr Yeltsin's is the most significant voice of dissent from inside Russia to Mr Putin's plans.

Mr Yeltsin, who appointed Mr Putin as prime minister in 1999 and endorsed his bid for the presidency the following year, said it was "correct and civilised" for a former president to criticise his successor.

The interview came a day after exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, once one of Mr Yeltsin's closest allies, called on the former president to speak out about the situation in Russia following Beslan.

Mr Yeltsin had made the mistake of keeping quiet as Mr Putin began to "destroy" everything that he stood for, the tycoon said.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3663788.stm

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Boris is still alive????????

I thought that they where just wheeling out hbis stuffed body when he was in power never mind now.

I tell you what though , doesnt this remind you of the past though.

I seriously think russia is edgeing back to some form of communism.

I mean in a recent poll a massive amount of russians actually said life was better under communism and that they wanted it back.

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Putin vows to maintain democracy

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to stick to democracy and a market economy, countering critics who see a return to authoritarian methods.

"There will be no about-turn in the country's life," Mr Putin told international media executives.

"Russia made its choice 10 years ago for a democratic, society-orientated state with a market economy," he said.

Mr Putin vowed to tighten the Kremlin's grip over the regions, after the Beslan school hostage tragedy this month.

Mr Putin also urged journalists on Friday not to be passive in the face of international terrorism.

"I'm convinced that in the condition of a global terrorist threat, that when people are being killed, the mass media cannot be simply observers," he said. "We do not have the right to forget."

He also said terrorism must not be used as an excuse to limit freedom of the press.

Kremlin tightens grip

Mr Putin has proposed nominating top regional officials, including governors, before they are approved locally.

The idea - if implemented - could increase the Kremlin's influence on Russia's local politics dramatically.

The Moscow Times reported on Friday that 10 governors had signed up to the pro-Kremlin United Russia party this week.

Quoting party leader Boris Gryzlov, it said at least 20 others were preparing to join the party.

Russia has 89 regional governors, currently elected directly.

Some observers say Mr Putin's plans are reminiscent of the party loyalty and central control that characterised the Soviet system.

US President George W Bush spoke to Mr Putin by telephone on Thursday and reiterated the need to protect democratic institutions while prosecuting the war on terrorism, the White House said.

Mr Putin announced the sweeping political changes as part of a package of tough anti-terrorism measures following the Beslan school siege in which at least 338 people died - nearly half of them children. The Beslan attack was claimed by Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev.

Russia has called for the extradition of Chechen political leaders living abroad, including rebel spokesman Akhmed Zakayev, who is currently in London.

Britain and Russia are working on a new UN Security Council resolution to stop terrorists evading justice by hiding behind asylum and refugee laws.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3686176.stm

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Joint letter attacks Putin reform

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel and 100 international figures have signed a letter criticising reforms proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Havel's aides say the signatories include former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, US Senator John McCain and philosopher Francis Fukuyama.

The letter has been sent to the heads of all European Union and Nato states.

It raises concerns that the Beslan school tragedy is being used to further undermine democracy in Russia.

The letter expresses solidarity with Russia in the fight against terror and condemns the seizure of the school in southern Russia earlier this month which left more than 330 people dead.

But it says the signatories are concerned by Mr Putin's proposed reforms and call for a change of stance towards Moscow by the West.

Mr Putin announced a sweeping overhaul of the way Russia is run, in the wake of the Beslan siege, the bombing of two passenger planes and other recent attacks on civilians.

He said strengthening central government control was a necessary part of the fight against terrorism.

'Threatening'

The signatories to the letter say Russian foreign policy under Mr Putin has been marked by a "threatening attitude" to neighbouring countries and "the return of the rhetoric of militarism and empire".

"All too often in the past, the West has remained silent and restrained its criticism in the belief that President Putin's steps in the wrong direction were temporary and the hope that Russia soon would return to a democratic pro-Western path," they say in the letter.

"The leaders of the West must recognise that our current strategy toward Russia is failing.

"We must speak the truth about what is happening in Russia. We owe it to the victims of Beslan and the tens of thousands of Russian democrats who are still fighting to preserve democracy and human freedom in their country."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3700972.stm

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