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Putin Rejects Calls for Change in Policy Towards Chechnya - 2004-09-07

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Western countries of applying a double standard on the issue of terrorism. His comments come in the wake of last week's hostage-taking incident that killed at least 338 people.

President Putin has rejected calls by some Western countries to review his hard-line stand on the conflict in breakaway Chechnya, which many analysts say may only be leading to more terrorist incidents such as the school seizure.

In a press interview, Putin asked how to possibly negotiate with heavily-armed militants such as those who held over 1,000 people hostage, most of them children. "Why don't you meet with Osama bin Laden, asking what he wants so that he leaves you in peace," the Russian leader is quoted as saying.

The Russian leader also ruled out a public inquiry into the hostage drama that might answer some of the many questions being raised about how the authorities handled the crisis.

The school siege is linked to Chechnya, where Russian troops have been attempting to crush a bid for independence from Russia for most of the past decade.

The Kremlin sees the conflict as solely a problem of international terrorism, given evidence that the war has led foreign fighters from Arab countries and elsewhere to fight there. Some of the militants who seized the school were reportedly Arabs, although this has not been independently confirmed.

While harshly criticizing terrorist acts, many Western leaders have also tried to encourage Putin to seek dialogue with moderate Chechens.

Human rights groups have long documented abuses against civilians by Russian troops in the war-torn republic, which they say only fuels anger among young men and women to strike back.

The debate over Chechnya was to be set aside later Tuesday, when a large rally to protest terrorism was due to be held near Red Square in Moscow. Organizers said they hoped at least 100,000 people would turn out to denounce recent terrorist incidents.

Apart from the school siege, two Russian airliners crashed almost simultaneously two weeks ago, and a blast killed 10 people near a Moscow subway station.

Those incidents have been blamed on Chechen suicide bombers.