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Yukos: Russia hits back at U.S.

Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, is accused of fraud.
Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, is accused of fraud.

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MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia has hit back at U.S. criticism of prosecutors' handling of a legal case against oil giant Yukos, calling the State Department's remarks "disrespectful."

U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday that the Kremlin should act to dispel concerns that the arrest of the boss of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was not politically motivated. His comments were echoed by Germany.

"They need to ensure that it's judged fairly and with full regard for due process of law applied in a non-selective fashion," Boucher said.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Yakovenko, speaking to First Channel television on Saturday, said: "This statement is a continuation of a notorious policy of double standards.

"It is, at the very least, tactless and disrespectful towards Russia."

Russian authorities have seized control of a large shareholding in Yukos pending further investigation of the company and of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, who is accused of fraud.

On Friday, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters he was "deeply concerned" over steps by Russian prosecutors to freeze 44 percent of the shares in Yukos. (Full story)

Kasyanov, quoted by Interfax news agency, called it a "new phenomenon ... the consequences of which are hard to predict."

"It's a new form of pressure," he added.

His remarks came a day after President Vladimir Putin tried to calm investors, inviting leading Russian and international money men to the Kremlin and assuring them there had been no change in policy by the Russian government.

The actions spurred fears of renationalization of industry, a major issue in Russia.

Opinion polls showed on Saturday nearly two-thirds of Muscovites were skeptical about Kremlin assertions the Yukos affair was purely a criminal matter and saw Khodorkovsky's arrest as political. That, however, did not appear to seriously erode support for Putin. (Full story)

The poll by the respected VTsIOM-A agency said Putin had 73 percent approval among 1,600 Russians polled this week.

This was nearly his lowest score this year but well above his rating after he came to power in 2000 promising to enforce the law and end the chaos of the 1990s, when a handful of businessmen, like Khodorkovsky, gained vast wealth.


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