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Russia: Media Official Barred From Leaving Country

Moscow, 28 June 2000 (RFE/RL) - Russian authorities prevented Igor Malashenko, the deputy head of Media-Most--the country's only independent media group--from leaving the country. A spokeswoman for Media-Most said authorities at Moscow's Vnukovo airport barred Malashenko from departing for Austria yesterday to attend an economic conference. The spokeswoman says the authorities gave no explanation for their actions. Earlier this month, the chief of Media-Most, Vladimir Gusinsky, was charged with embezzlement in a controversial lawsuit and detained for four days. Gusinsky's detention caused widespread protests at home and abroad. Russian authorities have ordered Gusinsky to remain in Russia during the investigation.

Meanwhile, Chechen fighters and Russian military commanders today continue to provide contradictory reports on the situation in Chechnya.

Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov was quoted by western news agencies as saying that a number of Russian soldiers -- up to 30 -- had been killed yesterday in a long battle near the village of Avtury, near Grozny.

Udugov also said there was fighting in the town of Shali and in western Chechnya.

Russian General Viktor Kazantsev, a former commander in Chechnya and currently the government's representative for southern Russia, said that a battle was under way in the republic but stopped short of identifying the area.

Kazantsev said however that a group of "rebels" -- up to 200 -- were encircled in the Shali area. He dismissed Chechen claims of casualties.

Russian state television (RTR) said that fighting has been under way for three days near the village of Serzhen-Yurt, near Avtury, and that up to 30 Chechen fighters been killed. None of these reports could be independently verified.

In Strasbourg, Armenia and Azerbaijan are due today to win recommendation to become members of the Council of Europe, although the council deputies say that both countries will remain under political surveillance.

The council's parliamentary assembly had been due to vote yesterday on the issue, but postponed the poll due to other business. The conflict between the two countries over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has been a major obstacle to the two countries' accession. The head of the assembly's council, Lord Russel Johnson, has said that granting simultaneous membership to Armenia and Azerbaijan may help to resolve the Karabakh dispute.

After gaining membership, Azerbaijan will have to carry out democratic parliamentary elections. The council also wants Baku to re-try several alleged political prisoners.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan will be under strict monitoring from the moment of their acceptance. Usually, council members are given a six-month period to "get their house in order." The Council of Europe is an important democracy and human rights watchdog.