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Russia Judge Refuses To Quit Politkovskaya Trial

Anna Politkovskaya in 2001
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A Russian judge has rejected a request from prosecutors to dismiss himself from the trial of three men accused of murdering journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a court spokesman said.

Prosecutors on November 25 said they wanted Judge Yevgeny Zubov removed from the politically charged case after he ruled the media could cover the trial, defying investigators who said they wanted it held behind closed doors.

"The judge rejected a petition for [his] removal," Aleksandr Minchanovsky, a spokesman for the Moscow District Military Court where the three suspects are being tried, told reporters outside the courtroom.

Politkovskaya, a fierce Kremlin critic, was shot dead outside her apartment two years ago, causing an outcry in the West over Russia's commitment to press freedom.

The trial of the three alleged accomplices in her murder is widely viewed as a test of Russia's justice system, which in the past has failed to put the main suspects behind bars in several high-profile murder cases.

Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Ibragim Makhmudov, brothers from Chechnya, are accused of helping arrange Politkovskaya's murder along with former policeman Sergei Khadzhikurbanov. They all deny the charges.

Politkovskaya's family says the investigation is incomplete because the man suspected of pulling the trigger, Rustam Makhmudov, is on the run and no one has been charged with ordering the killing.

The judge last week excluded the public from the trial, drawing angry criticism from Politkovskaya's former colleagues, who accused officials of trying to cover up inadequacies in their investigation.

The judge reversed that decision on November 25 and allowed journalists to attend after a member of the jury gave a radio interview saying the press had been barred under false pretences.

The judge later dismissed the juror for breaking confidentiality rules.