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Moscow Will Appeal Qatari Convictions

30 June 2004 -- A court in Qatar sentenced two Russians today to life imprisonment for killing exiled Chechen separatist leader and former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in February.

Yandarbiev, who served briefly as Chechen president in 1996, was killed when his car was bombed outside a mosque in the Qatari capital Doha.

The Qatari judge concluded that the two men -- Anatolii Belashkov and Vassilii Bogachev -- committed the crime on orders from the "Russian leadership."

Russian officials responded after the verdict by saying the two, who have been widely reported in the domestic media to be Russian secret-service employees, are innocent and said they will continue efforts to win their freedom.

A statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today came shortly after the announcement. Lavrov, speaking from Jakarta, said he respects Qatar's judicial proceedings but said Russian lawyers will appeal the decision.

Russia has said the men were spies involved in antiterrorism work in Qatar, but has consistently denied their involvement in the assassination.