CLOSED-DOOR HEARINGS OPEN IN BELGIUM. WILL IT EXTRADITE SUSPECTED MP MURDER ACCOMPLICE?

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BRUSSELS, August 24 (RIA Novosti's Alexander Shishlo) - The Prosecution Chamber of the Brussels Court of Appeal will open hearings, September 7, on prospective extradition of Pavel Stekhnovsky to Russia. A Russian national, he is suspected of complicity in the preparation and arrangement of the Galina Starovoitova assassination.

The prominent democratic MP was shot dead in her St. Petersburg home staircase in the small hours of November 21, 1998. Celebrated community activist, she was co-president of the Democratic Russia movement.

No public will be admitted to the hearings, which are expected to last an hour and a half or two hours, at the longest, says Estelle Arpigny, press secretary to the Brussels city prosecutor's office.

According to acting procedure, Belgium's Ministry of Justice cannot make extradition resolutions before the Court of Appeal prosecution chamber speaks up on the issue.

The Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considering the Russian extradition claim, a ministerial spokesman said to Novosti on an earlier occasion. The matter is in the Justice Ministry competence, and the proceedings are going on apace, he reassured.

The Belgian police arrested Stekhnovsky, May 17, on Russian request. All papers necessary for the suspect's extradition have reached Belgium for now.

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