Medvedev sympathy for murdered activists signals break from past

12:53, 30 January 2009
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The meeting is an indication...

Dmitry Medvedev yesterday condemned the killings nine days ago of a prominent human rights lawyer and journalist, in a clear departure from the Kremlin`s previous handling of politically tinged murders, writes Catherine Belton, according to  The Financial Times.

In the Russian president`s first show of support, he met Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, the paper where Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova worked, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader and co-owner of the paper. Officials said he expressed sympathy following the deaths of Mr Markelov and Ms Baburova, a trainee journalist.

The pair were shot dead in broad daylight by a lone gunman on a central Moscow street. The incident sparked an outcry among activists who fear the murder targeted those who seek to speak out against human rights abuses.

"[Mr Medvedev] said we are all adults and we know the situation is not simple, but when people who are young, talented and clever and just at the start of their careers are killed this is just terrible," said Mr Muratov. "It seemed to me he was very sincere. He asked me to pass on his words of sympathy to their families and colleagues."

The meeting is an indication that Mr Medvedev may be plotting a more independent course from Vladimir Putin, his predecessor, who, as prime minister, is lecturing the global elite about the financial crisis in Davos. Following the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, the crusading journalist and Kremlin critic who also worked for Novaya Gazeta, Mr Putin said only that her death was more damaging to Russia than her work.

The latest killings followed Mr Markelov`s vow to protest against the release on parole of a Russian colonel convicted of murdering a Chechen girl. Mr Markelov acted for the girl`s family and Ms Baburova covered the case for the paper.

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