PUTIN EXPRESSES GRATITUDE TO QATAR'S EMIR FOR RETURN OF TWO RUSSIANS

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MOSCOW, December 25 (RIA Novosti) - In a telephone conversation with Qatar's emir held the other day, Vladimir Putin expressed gratitude to the Qatar leadership for its goodwill in the solution of the issue of returning two Russian citizens.

On Friday a telephone conversation was held between the President of Russia and Qatar's emir Hamad Al Thani, the Kremlin's press-service reports.

"The President of Russia expressed his satisfaction over the return of two Russian citizens by Qatar and his sincere gratitude to the Qatar leadership for its goodwill in the settlement of this problem," the statement of the presidential press-service says.

During the talk both parties stressed their desire and the available real possibilities to comprehensively develop friendly Russia-Qatar relations in trade and the economy, and interaction in the international scene, primarily to ensure stability and peaceful development in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf region, the press-service says.

Earlier an airliner of Rossiya Air Company brought to Moscow two Russian citizens convicted in Qatar on the charges of the murder of Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev.

A spokesman for the Qatar Foreign Ministry said that the Qatar leadership had decided to satisfy the request of the Russians government and release two Russian intelligence officers so that they could serve their sentence in their home country.

A spokesman for the Qatar Foreign Ministry said that the transfer of the two Russian citizens was in compliance with the bilateral agreement signed between Russia and Qatar and the relevant legislation.

A Russian court can determine the further fate of the two Russian citizens, a well-informed source told RIA Novosti.

Qatar intelligence services arrested on the night of February 18-19 2004 three Russian citizens staying in Qatar on a business trip. They were charged with the premeditated murder of Yandarbiyev who had been killed in a vehicle explosion on February 13. One of the arrested persons, first secretary of the Russian embassy in Qatar who enjoyed diplomatic immunity was released and in March returned to Russia.

On June 30, 2004, the Qatar court sentenced two Russian citizens to life imprisonment for the murder of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The lawyers protested against the sentence.

On July 23, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Igor Ivanov visited Qatar to meet with Qatar's crown prince Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. This was the second visit by Igor Ivanov to Qatar after the arrest of the two Russian citizens.

However, the Qatari appellate court rejected on July 29 an appeal filed by the lawyer of the two Russian citizens and, as secretary of the Qatari court told RIA Novosti over the phone, the appellate court upheld the original verdict, i.e. life imprisonment.

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