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Moscow - The respected editor of Russia's Izvestia daily stepped down in what he and media analysts linked to the paper's critical coverage of the Russian authorities' handling of the three-day school seizure in southern Russia.
In an interview with Radio Liberty, Raf Shakirov said that his resignation on Monday was connected with the paper's Saturday issue, which ran huge, shocking pictures of wounded and dead children and other victims of the school hostage crisis.
"The leadership of Prof-Media (Izvestia's publisher) and I disagreed on the format of this issue. It is considered too emotional and poster-like, and in general papers aren't made like that," Shakirov said, according to the interview transcript, published on the Newsru.com website.
"We did it proceeding from our perception of what this means for the country. And actually this perception proved to be right - that this is a war," Shakirov said. "Nevertheless, I am forced to resign from this position."
Prof-Media declined to comment on Shakirov's departure, and The Associated Press could not reach Shakirov for comment. Izvestia posted a brief news report about Shakirov's resignation on its website.
On Wednesday about 30 gunmen seized a middle school in Beslan, a town in the southern province of North Ossetia, and held nearly 1 200 children and their parents hostage for three days until Russian forces stormed the building. More than 300 hostages died and more than 700 were wounded during the battle that broke out when the militants' explosives began detonating.
Analysts had speculated that in the tragedy's aftermath, the state would strengthen control over society and the media. Shakirov's resignation appeared to be one of the first steps.
"Judging from what is being said, and based on my information, it was the Saturday issue of Izvestia, which contained page-wide photos about what was happening in Beslan. This very emotional and harsh coverage ran counter to someone in the authorities, and the shareholders were asked to take measures," Anna Kachkayeva, a TV analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told The AP.
Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Center, said it was still unclear whether Shakirov's departure was a move "by a fearful owner or it is the new state policy."
Izvestia is one of Russia's largest daily newspapers, with a circulation of 234 500. It is run by Prof-Media, owned by metals magnate Vladimir Potanin, who has kept a low profile during the Kremlin-sponsored campaign against the Yukos oil giant and its key shareholders.
Lipman said Shakirov's resignation was another illustration of a "quite strange situation" in the Russian media - the state's total control over television channels, contrasting with lively and critical newspaper reporting.
Shakirov, 44, was named Izvestia's chief editor in October. He is widely respected for his journalistic and managerial skills, having previously run several television programmes and edited the respected Kommersant daily. Shakirov was also responsible for launching and managing the popular Gazeta daily, after which he moved to Izvestia.
Until a new editor is appointed, Izvestia will be run by its executive secretary Vladimir Borodin, the news report on the paper's website said.
Also Monday, Russian authorities detained the Moscow bureau chief of the satellite TV channel Al Arabiya on his way to Moscow from Beslan, where he was covering the hostage crisis, a producer at the bureau told The Associated Press.
Amro Abdel Hamid was detained at the airport in the southern Russian city of Mineralniye Vody, the producer said on condition of anonymity. The producer said he was not told of the reason for his detention.
An editor at the station in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said Hamid will be detained for two days. Speaking to Cairo office of The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, the editor said the authorities have not yet said why Hamid - who also has Russian nationality - was detained. - Sapa-AP