KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich is urging authorities to investigate the murder of a judge who placed two anti-government protesters under house arrest.
With Ukraine's wave of unrest continuing, the murder of Oleksander Lobodenko raised concern that violence would escalate in the stand-off between the authorities and thousands of protesters.
Lobodenko, the 34-year-old judge of a court in the Poltava region in central Ukraine, was shot several times in the back by two unknown assailants near his home on Wednesday, police said in a statement.
Police said their main hypothesis was that Lobodenko had been killed because of his job. He had been involved in cases against anti-government activists who had occupied a municipal building. Opposition leaders see such statements as attempts by the authorities to discredit the protest movement.
At least six people have been killed in protests that erupted in November, when the government abandoned a plan to sign a trade treaty with the European Union and sought closer ties with Russia instead. If Lobodenko's killing was related to his prosecution of the protesters, it would be the first violent death of someone on the authorities' side since the unrest began.
A presidential order carried on Yanukovich's website called for "a prompt investigation of those responsible for this crime and bring them to justice."
Several people taking part in the protests have disappeared. Protesters blame security forces for the abductions, attacks on protesters and torching of their cars.
The president has offered an amnesty to detained protesters. It is due to expire on February 17 and is conditional upon their leaving occupied public buildings. The demonstrators have already rejected the amnesty.
(Reporting By Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Larry King)