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World News

Russian police in standoff over journalist's death

NAZRAN, Russia (Reuters) - Police in Russia’s troubled Ingushetia region were in a standoff on Monday with protesters angered by the death of a leading opposition journalist who was shot in the head while in police custody.

Magomed Yevloyev, owner of opposition Internet site www.ingushetiya.ru, is the most high-profile Russian journalist to be killed since investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was shot outside her Moscow apartment in October 2006.

Police said Yevloyev, who was a leading opponent of Ingushetia’s Kremlin-backed leader Murat Zyazikov, was shot by accident when he tried to grab an officer’s gun. His supporters and human rights groups said they did not believe that version of events.

A Reuters reporter in Ingushetia’s biggest city Nazran said riot police were lined up on a central square where about 250 people, some of them armed with wooden sticks and truncheons, were demanding Zyazikov leave his post.

A helicopter flew several times at low altitude over the demonstrators, who ignored police instructions to disperse.

Earlier in the day, about 1,000 protesters chanting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great,” gathered around a truck in the square which was carrying Yevloyev’s coffin.

“They killed our colleague in a dastardly and open way. If the federal authorities do not intervene in what is happening, we have the right to demand Ingushetia’s secession from Russia,” Magomed Khazbiyev, a protest organiser, told the crowd.

TINDERBOX

Zyazikov told Russia’s Interfax news agency Yevloyev’s killing was a “human tragedy” which would be thoroughly investigated. But he warned he would not allow anyone to use the incident to destabilize Ingushetia.

Yevloyev’s colleagues said police detained him after he arrived from Moscow on the same flight as Zyazikov.

Interior Ministry officials were taking Yevloyev from Magas airport to Nazran when the incident occurred.

“Yevloyev attempted to grab the weapon of one of the officers accompanying him. As a result the unidentified officer inflicted a penetrating gunshot wound to Yevloyev’s head,” a ministry spokeswoman said.”

Yevloyev’s killing is likely to add to tension in a region which is already a tinderbox because of poverty, a violent Islamist insurgency and accusations Zyazikov crushes dissent.

France, holder of the European Union presidency, said in a statement issued by its Foreign Ministry it learned of Yevloyev’s death “with consternation” and that it was “deeply concerned by attacks on media freedom” in the region.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media freedom, group, said the explanations given by the Ingush authorities for Yevloyev’s death made no sense. “We are outraged by the death of Yevloyev,” it said. “His death must not go unpunished.”

Russian prosecutors said they had started a criminal investigation under article 109 of the criminal code: causing death through carelessness.

Russian media reported that the editor of ingushetiya.ru, Rosa Malsagova, fled Russia this year saying she feared for her life. A Moscow court in May closed down the site, saying it was publishing extremist material.

Yevloyev spearheaded a campaign which tried to prove Ingushetia’s authorities had rigged an election last year to give more than 90 percent support to a pro-Kremlin party.

Additional reporting by Aydar Buribaev in Moscow; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mary Gabriel

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