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World News

Supporters demand justice for slain Kremlin critic

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Supporters demanded justice for murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya on Sunday while President Vladimir Putin celebrated his birthday with some of the security forces and spy chiefs criticized in her writing.

Up to 2,000 people, clutching carnations and pictures of the reporter, attended a somber rally in Moscow’s Pushkin Square under bleak skies to mark the first anniversary of her death.

Thousands more young people waved Russian flags and danced to pop music at a riverside party in Moscow organized by a pro-Kremlin youth movement in honor of Putin’s 55th birthday while in the Kremlin, military top brass, the FSB director and other intelligence agency figures mixed with the President.

“We should fight for freedom,” the editor of Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Dmitry Muratov, told those who gathered in her memory, including members of the “Other Russia” dissident group.

“We should keep Anna in our hearts and we should not follow the instructions of Putin”.

The crowd also endorsed a demand from the organizers that the authorities must bring her killers to justice.

Hundreds of police, some on horseback, patrolled nearby but no trouble was reported.

Colleagues gathered earlier for a graveside service in homage to Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two who wrote sharp criticism of Putin’s policies, particularly in Chechnya.

She was shot in the lift of her Moscow apartment block as she returned home from shopping. No one has been convicted for her murder.

A handful of others, including ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov, now an opposition politician, laid flowers at the entrance to her apartment building.

Kasparov was frustrated at the poor turnout. “Today is the official celebration of Putin’s birthday, but in a few years people will remember this day more for the death of Anna,” he told Reuters.

KREMLIN PARTY

Putin, who enjoys strong support among Russians, held a birthday reception for top military officials and friends in the Kremlin, his last as president before he steps down next March, possibly to become prime minister.

There was a strong military presence, including widows and family members of Russian soldiers killed in the Chechen wars, which Politkovskaya had written about repeatedly, to attack brutal tactics from the armed forces.

Nashi, the largest pro-Kremlin youth organization, drew at least 5,000 young people to its riverside outdoor party in honor of Putin.

“I was 12, a young girl when Putin became president, but now our country is once again strong,” said Daria Morina, 19, who described herself as a commissar with Nashi and wore an orange neck scarf, reminiscent of the Soviet-era Pioneer movement.

“I don’t know anything about Anna Politkovskaya. I’m not interested,” she said, when asked what she thought about the reporter’s murder.

She said the government had paid for the Nashi event.

Putin drew fire in the aftermath of Politkovskaya’s death for describing her influence as “minimal” but later praised her critical writing as an important contribution to public life.

Prosecutors announced the arrest of 11 suspects in August but some were later released for lack of evidence and the chief investigator on the case was sidelined amid accusations of political interference.

Prosecutors say the crime was masterminded by anti-Kremlin forces abroad to discredit Russia but have not produced any evidence of this.

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