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Human rights worker abducted in Chechnya

Chechen journalist and activist Natalia Estemirova poses at the Front Line Club in London October 4, 2007. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A prominent human rights campaigner in Russia’s turbulent Chechnya region was abducted on Wednesday as she left her home, her colleagues at the Russian organization Memorial said.

Natalia Estemirova was pushed into a white car by several assailants as she left for work at 0830 local time (0430 GMT), her colleague Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya said.

“We are not excluding the possibility that she was abducted and we feel this is what most likely happened,” said Sokiryanskaya, who works with Estemirova in Memorial’s office in the Chechen capital Grozny.

A spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, ex-rebel turned Kremlin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov, said they were unaware of any disappearance. Russia’s interior ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.

New-York based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Estemirova was abducted as she was working on “extremely sensitive” cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

“There is no shred of doubt that she was targeted due to her professional activity,” said Tanya Lokshina, HRW’s Russian researcher in Moscow.

“We know she was abducted and HRW is demanding the Kremlin and Kadyrov that she be returned home safely.”

Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Aydar Buribayev; Editing by Robin Pomeroy