Leading Russian journalist in coma after assault

* Oleg Kashin worked for leading Russian daily Kommersant

* Covered opposition protests, national politics

* Medvedev personally orders investigators to solve crime

MOSCOW, Nov 6 (Reuters) - A leading Russian newspaper journalist was in a coma on Saturday after a severe beating his editor said was probably linked to his work, which included coverage of opposition protests.

It was the latest in a series of assaults on journalists in a country on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ “Impunity Index”, a listing of states where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes.

Police opened a criminal case for attempted murder after Oleg Kashin, a political journalist with the Kommersant daily, was beaten overnight near his home, the prosecutor general’s investigative committee said in a statement.

Doctors induced a coma after Kashin was admitted to hospital with two broken legs, a damaged skull and a jaw fractured in two places, Kommersant reported on its web site. It cited witnesses as saying he was attacked by two men near his Moscow apartment.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the prosecutor general and interior minister to “take special control of the investigation”, a Kremlin spokesman said.

“This shows there are people in our society willing to resort to crime to shut the mouths of journalists,” the head of Russia’s journalists’ union, Mikhail Fedotov, told the Ekho Mosvky radio station.

Kommersant editor Mikhail Mikhailin cited the fact that the assailants did not take Kashin’s wallet or telephone as evidence that his work must have had something to do with the attack, Interfax news agency reported.

Kashin reported on Russian politics, including opposition rallies, but it was unclear what stories he covered that might have sparked the attack.

Kommersant, which offers mild criticism of the authorities, is Russia’s best respected general news daily.

Journalist rights groups have criticized the Russian authorities for failing to solve a number of high-profile murders of media workers, including the 2006 killing of Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says there have been 19 unsolved murders of journalists in Russia since 2000.

Writing by Conor Humphries; editing by Mark Heinrich; +7495-7751242