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Russia: Search Underway For Killers Of Starovoitova

St. Petersburg, 24 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In the wake of Friday's murder of leading liberal Russian Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova, Saint Petersburg police have been seeking her killers.

Police spokeswoman Natalya Grigorieva told RFE/RL yesterday (Nov. 23) that police are raiding known criminal hang-outs in the city, which she described as certain night clubs, casinos, and bath houses in search of Starovoitova's killers. Itar-Tass reports that several suspects have already been detained.

On Saturday, Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin told a press conference in Saint Petersburg that the murderers are believed to be a man and a woman. He vowed that they will, in his words, "certainly be caught and the crime solved."

The murder weapons -- a compact machine-gun with a built-in silencer and a Berreta handgun -- were left at the scene of the crime, in the manner of Russian hitmen.

Starovoitova was shot three times in the head late Friday in the entrance to her apartment building, which is located next to the local headquarters of OMON, the police special forces unit.

Her press secretary, Ruslan Linkov, who was accompanying her and was also shot, is still hospitalized in critical condition. His hospital room is under heavy guard and investigators say they have already spoken with him in a search for clues.

One clear result of Starovoitova's murder has been to convince the city's fractious democratic parties to put their differences aside and unite for common goals.

On Monday, the Saint Petersburg branch of Grigori Yavlinsky's Yabloko party, Galina Starovoitova's political party Democratic Russia, and the local liberal political movement "Accord", which itself is composed of 12 other local democratic parties and movements, announced the creation of a "civic anti-criminal front."

According to a declaration made by the front, "St. Petersburg and all of Russia, are now at a critical point in the effort to make democracy work." The statement adds that if given just a little more time, the government of St. Petersburg and of the whole country could fall "in the hands of those who order political assassinations."

Mikhail Amosov, chairman of the Saint Petersburg branch of Yabloko, told a press-conference on Monday that the front's goal is to ensure greater voter participation in the elections to Saint Petersburg's Legislative Assembly on Dec. 6 and to prevent criminal structures from getting their people into government.

Over the past two months, local pro-reform lawmakers have been warning that criminal elements are attempting to gain seats in the legislature. Many see Starovoitova's murder as an attempt by such groups to weaken the city's democratic forces in the run-up to that election. Even though Starovoitova was not running for a local seat, her leadership was important to those democrats who were.

Meanwhile, Russian State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyev is suing the St. Petersburg newspaper, Severnaya Stolitsa, for slander over an article in its most recent issue. The newspaper, which is run by Starovoitova's local supporters, accused Seleznyev of illegal fund-raising efforts for a possible presidential campaign.