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Protesters Demand Denmark Extradite Chechen Rebel Envoy

Demonstrators gathered in front of the Danish Embassy in Moscow demanding the extradition of a leading Chechen official, who was arrested in Copenhagen last week on suspicion of helping to plan the hostage-taking at a Moscow theater. The action comes as emotions still run high in the wake of the hostage drama, which ended a week ago.

The protesters demanded the prompt extradition of Akhmed Zakayev, who the Kremlin says helped plan the seizure of nearly 800 hostages at the theater.

Mr. Zakayev is a top aide to Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov. He was in Copenhagen to attend a conference of Chechen rebels when police arrested him Wednesday at Russia's request.

Kremlin officials say he is wanted for various incidents, including the recent crisis. At least 119 hostages were killed, along with dozens of Chechen militants when Russian troops stormed the theater. Almost all of the hostages died from the powerful narcotic gas used to knock out the militants.

The Danish Justice Ministry said Saturday it wants to see more evidence, before considering the extradition of Mr. Zakayev to Russia. A ministry spokeswoman in Copenhagen said Moscow should provide more factual evidence.

Both Mr. Zakayev and Aslan Maskhadov denounced the hostage raid, saying it damaged the Chechens' long fight for independence from Russia.

But the Kremlin claims it has evidence linking both men to the raid, including a videotape in which Mr. Maskhadov allegedly says a large action would soon be taken against Russia.

On Friday, a leading Chechen rebel, Shamil Basayev, said on the rebels' web site that he had ordered the raid and that Mr. Maskhadov was not involved. The claim could not be confirmed independently.

Mr. Zakayev has served as a mediator between the Chechen leadership and Moscow. Last year, he met briefly with Russian officials at a Moscow airport to discuss possible peace talks.

The hostage incident appears to have strengthened Russian President Vladimir Putin's resolve to pursue the war in Chechnya, which takes a deadly toll on both sides on an almost daily basis.