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Chechnya activist's murder sparks international outrage
Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:33am EDT
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By Aydar Buribayev and Amie Ferris-Rotman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The abduction and murder of a prominent human rights activist from Chechnya sparked international outrage on Thursday and her grieving supporters asked "Who is next?."
While relatives and friends returned Natalia Estimirova's body from neighboring Ingushetia where it had been dumped in woodland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russia to clarify the circumstances surrounding her killing.
"I expressed my shock at the death," Merkel said after meeting Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in Germany.
Medvedev called it "a very sad event" and said he was determined to find and punish Estimirova's killers.
The human rights organization she worked for blamed Chechnya's Kremlin-backed president for her killing and Amnesty International said it stemmed from a culture of impunity both within Chechnya and in Russia as a whole. The United States called it an "outrageous crime."
A close friend of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Estimirova worked for the human rights organization Memorial in the Chechen capital Grozny and documented abuses by law enforcement agencies.
She was abducted on Wednesday in Chechnya and her body was found in neighboring Russian republic Ingushetia in the latest of a series of killings of establishment critics which has led to questions about Medvedev's pledges to uphold the rule of law.
Russia's Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told reporters in Munich the government was pursuing several scenarios, while prosecutor General Yury Chaika was shown on Russian television saying he would take personal control of the case.
Memorial's chairman Oleg Orlov explicitly blamed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, an ex-rebel turned Kremlin loyalist.
"I know, I am sure of it, who is guilty for the murder of Natalia... His name is Ramzan Kadyrov," he said in a statement on Memorial's website www.memo.ru late on Wednesday.
"Ramzan already threatened Natalia, insulted her, considered her a personal enemy."
Kadyrov's spokesman said her killers would be punished.
"Estemirova defended human rights. She couldn't possibly have had enemies amongst clear-thinking people," he said. "Those who took her life do not deserve to be called people. They deserve no mercy and they should be punished as the cruelest of criminals."
BURIAL THIS WEEK
Estemirova's body arrived in Grozny from Ingushetia on Thursday with a cortege of cars packed with colleagues and relatives. Relatives will decide whether to bury her on Thursday or Friday, said Shakhman Akbulatov, the head of Memorial's Grozny office. Continued...
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