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Jailed Russian Tycoon Challenges Medvedev In Court

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) with Platon Lebedev inside the bullet-proof glass defendents' cage of a Moscow court.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has challenged President Dmitry Medvedev from the dock of a Moscow court to stand by his commitment to keep the judiciary independent of the Kremlin.

The former boss of the Yukos oil group, on trial for new charges that could keep him in jail for an additional 22 years, said his fate would send a signal to Russians on whether to trust the court system or to take their grievances onto the streets.

"President Medvedev has several times noted the importance of having an authoritative and independent judiciary in the country. This is a key question," Khodorkovsky, 45, dressed in jeans and a brown jacket, said from a glass cage in court.

"The Yukos case, whether anyone likes it or not, is symbolic."

Medvedev has promised to end what he terms "legal nihilism" in Russia's court system, and made the establishment of an independent judiciary a key pledge of his presidency.

Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev are already serving eight-year terms for fraud and tax evasion after a highly politicized trial in 2005, widely viewed as part of former President Vladimir Putin's campaign to rein in powerful business chiefs known as oligarchs. Both deny the charges.

The pair were brought to Moscow this year from their Siberian prison to face new charges for embezzlement and money laundering in a joint trial being watched for any signs of a softer line from Putin's successor, Medvedev.

"It is clear that President Medvedev, in promising society independent and honest courts, has taken on an extremely heavy but very important burden," Khodorkovsky said.

He said the verdict in his trial would send an important political signal to Russians.

"When a person feels his rights have been violated in a crisis situation...there are two ways out: to proceed calmly through the courts or loudly through civil protests," he said.