- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

MOSCOW Russian lawmakers passed amendments yesterday that would sharply curb coverage of anti-terrorist operations and prohibit news outlets from carrying rebel statements.
Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted 231-106 to amend the country's media law, which would put severe restrictions on press coverage of "counterterrorist operations," including the war in Chechnya and the special-forces raid that rescued hundreds of hostages but led to at least 119 deaths.
The vote prohibits news outlets from distributing information that reveals security tactics or provides information about people involved in them and bans the publication or broadcast of "propaganda or justification of extremist activity."
The changes are expected to be approved by the upper house and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
Coverage of Chechnya is already severely restricted. It is nearly impossible for journalists to report there without working with the Russian military and the Moscow-backed Chechen administration.
In another vote this one 288-1 with two abstentions Russian lawmakers passed a bill to prohibit returning the bodies of terrorists to their families or revealing their place of burial, a decision that drew criticism from some liberal lawmakers.
Chechnya's leading rebel warlord, meanwhile, took responsibility for the hostage siege.
Warlord Shamil Basayev said in a Web site statement that his group was behind the theater raid and promised that future attacks would be even more destructive.
"The next time, those who come won't make any demands, won't take hostages," Mr. Basayev said on a Chechen Web site. Their "main goal will be destroying the enemy and exacting maximum damage."
The authenticity of the statement could not be confirmed.
Mr. Basayev said the attack was planned without the knowledge of the breakaway republic's elected leader, Aslan Maskhadov. He asked Mr. Maskhadov's forgiveness for preparing the raid in secret and said he would resign from all posts in the rebel hierarchy.
Kremlin officials, who have said Mr. Maskhadov was a chief organizer of the hostage attack, called Mr. Basayev's statement a smoke screen designed to divert attention from the rebel leader.
"Basayev is trying to shield Maskhadov from blame, to save him for further political games," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told the Itar-Tass news agency.

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