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Russia: Media-MOST Dealt New Blows

Moscow, 17 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky received a new blow today when co-owners of his key political weekly magazine sacked all the editorial staff, just hours after closing a sister daily. Journalists at the "Itogi" news magazine were told today to resign or be laid off. "Itogi" Editor in Chief Sergei Parkhomenko, who was also dismissed, denounced the move.

"This whole procedure is taking place in the absence of the management of the publishing house, that is without its participation. I did not meet with either the president of the publishing house or any of his deputies or his close aides. All this is being done by the personnel department and its chief."

Yesterday, the Sem Dnei (Seven Days) printing house -- which also publishes "Itogi" -- stopped financing the "Segodnya" daily and ensuing issues were cancelled.

Sem Dnei head Dmitry Biryukov yesterday dismissed "Segodnya" Editor in Chief Mikhail Berger and gave the staff two months paid leave. Staffers said Biryukov's decisions amounted to a de facto closure.

"Segodnya" Editor in Chief Mikhail Berger was dismissed earlier today.

"Segodnya" was put out by the Sem Dnei (Seven Days) publishing house. It teamed up with the media subsidiary of Gazprom to put together a 50 percent plus one share stake and take control of the company.

The move came days after the state-controlled Gazprom natural gas conglomerate took control over NTV, Media-MOST's main television channel. Dozens of NTV staffers have resigned to join Media-MOST's TNT, a cable television network which the Moscow tax inspection charged yesterday with tax evasion.

NTV journalists say that Gazprom is trying to stifle criticism of President Vladimir Putin's policies.

Gusinsky, who claims that the Kremlin is trying to muzzle independent media, is currently in Spain, awaiting a decision to extradite him to Russia to face embezzlement charges.

Yesterday the U.S. State Department said it is closely monitoring the NTV takeover. Spokesman Richard Boucher noted that the physical takeover of NTV occurred while the legitimacy of the new management is still being challenged in court.

"We note that the new management at NTV took physical control of the station while the legitimacy of the 3 April board meeting was still being challenged in the courts. So that is a matter of concern. As we've said, we've been concerned about the lack of open and transparent process in terms of the shares and the controlling ownership issues, as well as the overall issue of freedom of speech and freedom of the media in Russia."