Putin claims Chechen leader's death

July 22, 2006 at 1:05 AM

MOSCOW, July 21 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin handed out medals this week for the killing of Chechen leader Shamil Basayev but Chechens say Basayev died accidentally.

Basayev, who planned the takeover of a Moscow theater and a school in Beslan -- actions that caused hundreds of deaths -- was reportedly killed in an explosion July 10. While the Russian government says he was targeted by intelligence officers, Chechen separatists claim he was the victim of an accidental explosion, The New York Times reports.

There are even rumors that Basayev was killed weeks earlier and his body refrigerated so Putin could announce his death just before the G8 summit in St. Petersburg.

While medals were given to members of the Federal Security Service in a secret ceremony, the fact of the ceremony was publicized and Putin was filmed as he left.

"This is informational war, and has nothing to do with reality," a Putin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said of the Chechens' claims.

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