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    PACE resolution discussion on North Caucasus turns sour - paper

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    The plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) turned sour as delegates accused Russia of persecuting outspoken journalists and human rights activists, Russian business daily Kommersant said on Wednesday

    The plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) turned sour as delegates accused Russia of persecuting outspoken journalists and human rights activists, Russian business daily Kommersant said on Wednesday.

    On Tuesday, PACE almost unanimously voted for a draft resolution condemning Russia's policy in the North Caucasus, which said that "human rights violations and the climate of complete impunity were bound to foster the rise of extremist movements."

    With 132 delegates in favor, only six abstentions looked insignificant, perhaps even more so since three out of those who abstained were Russian delegates: head of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee Konstantin Kosachyov, Sergei Markov and Ivan Melnikov.

    The rest of the Russian delegation - the human rights group Memorial and other activists - voted in favor of the resolution which was dubbed "a major signal" of a shift in Moscow's Caucasus policy.

    The resolution followed a report by PACE rapporteur Dick Marty describing the situation in Russia's North Caucasus as "most serious and most delicate."

    In March, Marty visited Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan, which have been a continuous source of trouble for the Kremlin since the mid 1990s.

    Marty started off with praise for Moscow, saying the Russian authorities helped him collect the information and do research.

    However, he said, "we are far from having found a solution, but I believe we are entering a new era, a period where dialog might be possible."

    The resolution cited his findings that there is a "legal vacuum" in the region, which is regularly rocked by reports of extrajudicial killings, tortures and kidnappings.

    Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said Marty's report was unbiased and objective.

    "We should compare the situation in the North Caucasus not with what goes on in Europe but with what was happening there [in the North Caucasus] a few years ago. Anyone who visits it will say things have changed for the better," Yevkurov, who was hospitalized after being severely attacked last year, told the session.

    "I assure you we will do all we can to make the North Caucasus a zone of peace and prosperity."

    Things went awry, however, when Aleksei Lotman, who represents Estonia's Green Party in PACE, accused the Russian authorities of "killings and kidnappings of people," which he said had turned them into terrorists. He called Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov "self-appointed."

    "The situation with women's rights is worsening," he said, "infamous self-appointed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, whose portraits are hung around all over the republic and remind one of the portraits of [George Orwell's] Big Brother, openly says that women are slaves," Lotman said.

    Kosachyov said he would divide the present session members into three groups: "Those who have been to the North Caucasus and have an understanding of what is going on there; those who have been there and have attempted to completely understand, like Dick Marty; and those who understand the Caucasus from what they've read in newspapers."

    "When Mr. Lotman allows himself to say that Kadyrov is 'self-appointed,' then he has insulted the Chechens who voted for him," Kosachyov continued.

    Lotman also accused the Russian authorities of involvement in the killings of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and human rights activist Natalia Estimirova in 2009.

    Other delegates threw even more criticism at Kadyrov's government, saying his regime sets the republic centuries back.

    "Either we made a mistake letting Russia join us or its admission in our organization has had no effect on the situation. It is a failure of our democracy," one delegate said.

    PACE President Mevlut Cavusoglu calmed the session down but tensions rose again when former Chechen militant leader Akhmed Zakayev barged in the discussion after entering the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg under a fictitious name.

    "The problem cannot be solved by using force," he said. "It is time to understand that... Russia should return the fundamental rights to the Chechen people."

    STRASBOURG, June 23 (RIA Novosti)

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