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Russia: Journalist's Murder Bring Allegations Of Political Motives

Moscow, 10 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Larisa Yudina, an opposition journalist and political activist, was murdered last weekend in Russia's southern autonomous republic of Kalmykia. No killer has been found, but Moscow media, some politicians and human rights organizations allege that the murder might have been politically motivated.

The daily Russky Telegraf said in an article published today that Yudina "is the last victim of an undeclared war against journalists."

Yudina, co-chairperson of the local branch of the pro-reform Yabloko party, was the editor of Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya, the republic's only non-government newspaper. The paper frequently published materials critical of Kalmykia's president, millionaire businessman Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

According to the media reports, Yudina last week received a phone call from an unknown representative of the republican Agency for Development and Cooperation (ARIS). The agency registers companies in Kalmykia's official offshore zone, to favor investment. The caller asked for a meeting.

Yudina is said to have left for the meeting Sunday evening (June 7), apparently to receive some documents. She never returned. Her body, boring marks of a violent attack, was found the next day.

The general director of ARIS, Aleksei Kucherenko, told Kommersant Daily that his agency was recently audited by security and tax officials, who found "practically no evidence of violations."

Kalmykia's Interior ministry said local police had started a criminal investigation of the case. Ilyumzhinov's press-service said that the murder does not appear to be politically motivated. But Yudina's colleagues and the leader of the Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, called on Russia's general prosecutor, Yury Skuratov, to take over the case from the local authorities.

Skuratov announced that his office had agreed to Yabloko's request, after the State Duma backed Yabloko's call. A special group of prosecutors and investigators from Russia's security service and interior ministry left Moscow for Kalmykia's capital Elista.

The Kremlin said in a statement that President Boris Yeltsin "shares the consternation and the concern" caused by the murder and is closely following the investigation.

Sovietskaya Kalmykia Segodnya, formerly the paper of the republican communist youth organization, have long maintained its editorial independence, despite offers from the local authorities to provide financial subsidies in exchange for support. Moscow's Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported today that the paper was currently funded by small private contributions.

Kommersant Daily said, quoting "Yabloko" members in Moscow and Elista, that the situation worsened after the paper had started publishing reports on the activities of commercial firms linked to the republican leadership.

Yudina said in interview showed last night on Russian television, that since 1996 her publication was suffering continual harassment and was forced to print outside Kalmykia. Yudina said that for that reason only about 4,000 copies of the paper could have been occasionally printed and distributed.

Aleksei Simonov, president of the Fond Zashity Glasnost, an organization monitoring violations of media rights in Russia, has told reporters that his organization last year prepared a report on the conflict between Yudina's newspaper and the Kalmykian authorities, but it receive only scant public interests.

After Yudina's murder, the situation may change. Yavlinsky said at a press-conference in Moscow that his party considers Yudina's murder "a sign that solving political problems via criminal means is becoming a fact of life" in Russia and that "federal authorities are unable to carry out the democratic functions of a civil society."