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Lawmakers reshuffle committee posts, forcing Communist Party to lose top positions

Associated Press, April 4, 2002

MOSCOW - The Russian government lashed out Thursday at U.S.-funded Radio Liberty, saying its first broadcasts to the North Caucasus region were biased in favor of Chechen rebels.

"It seems the pessimistic prognoses ... are beginning to come true," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency.

"An analysis of the first broadcasts that went on the air Wednesday show they are one-sided, to say the least."

Grigory Yavlinsky, the head of Russia's liberal Yabloko party, also criticized Radio Liberty, saying its decision to broadcast in the Chechen language showed "the tactlessness that is typical of American politicians," the Interfax news agency reported.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty launched its new North Caucasus service this week, broadcasting for two hours a day in the regional languages Chechen, Avar, and Circassian, as well as Russian. Russian officials, who have severely limited media access to Chechnya and banned the broadcast or publication of interviews with rebel representatives, have said that the Radio Liberty broadcasts could help advance the rebel cause.

Sonia Winter, a spokeswoman at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, said the Russian government's accusations were unfounded.

"We were judged ahead of time, and I don't think with one broadcast, one can make such conclusions," she told The Associated Press. "I would urge them to continue listening before they make up their mind."

Winter said RFE/RL had been broadcasting in Russian minority languages for years, and the Chechen broadcasts were not unique.

The North Caucasus service had been scheduled to start in late February but was delayed after the Kremlin denounced the idea and threatened to revoke Radio Liberty's broadcast license if the new broadcasts revealed a pro-Chechen bias.

The U.S. State Department said it asked for the delay to consult with Congress, but later allowed the project to go forward.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were established during the Cold War to spread democratic ideas and values behind the Iron Curtain. They were merged in 1975.

See also:

Grigory Yavlinsky: Beginning of broadcasting of Radio Liberty in Chechen is "not very tactful" towards Russia

Associated Press, April 4, 2002

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