Mourners Pay Homage to Slain Journalist

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 10, 2006; 2:34 PM

MOSCOW -- Hundreds of Russians, journalists and Western diplomats filed past an open casket Tuesday to pay their respects to a slain investigative reporter who had criticized President Vladimir Putin and Russia's conduct in Chechnya.

In Germany, Putin called the killing of Anna Politkovskaya a "disgustingly cruel" crime that cannot go unpunished, but he also played down her influence on Russian political life as "very minor."

No high-ranking government officials attended the funeral of the award-winning journalist, who made her name fearlessly exposing abductions and torture in the war in Chechnya.

"The authorities are cowards. Why didn't they come? Are they afraid even of a dead Politkovskaya?" asks Boris Nemtsov, a 1990s reformer who served as deputy prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin.

Politkovskaya, 48, was gunned down in her apartment building Saturday. The killing threw a new spotlight on the risks faced by journalists who criticize Russian authorities and dig deep to expose abuses.

At home and abroad, her slaying drew widespread concern about dwindling media freedom in Russia since Putin came to power nearly seven years ago. Prosecutors have said she was probably killed because of her journalistic work, but there are no immediate leads.

More than 1,000 mourners who had gathered under the drizzle filed past the open casket where Politkovskaya lay in a funeral hall on the outskirts of Moscow, her forehead covered with a white ribbon according to Russian Orthodox tradition.

They placed flowers, mostly roses and carnations, around the coffin. Others held thin yellow prayer candles, and many wept.

"Anya lived and died a hero," said veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva. "She couldn't bear seeing how people suffer, how they're in trouble, and that's why she rushed to their help as if she were the most powerful person in the world, not waiting for other help to arrive."

U.S. Ambassador William Burns, who attended the ceremony, said he hoped "this tragic death will lead to greater respect for freedom of speech, for the importance of speaking the truth and achieving fairness and truth."

Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika has taken personal charge of the investigation, but Politkovskaya's colleagues have expressed doubts that her slaying will be solved. Her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, has pledged to conduct an independent investigation and offered a nearly $1 million reward for information that would help solve the crime.

Putin, who was in Dresden to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, suggested the murder could have been aimed at discrediting Russia's image.

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© 2006 The Associated Press