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Russian Reporter 'Near Death' After Beating

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A Russian reporter who challenged alleged corruption in local government was close to death on November 17 after a savage beating, a close friend said.

Mikhail Beketov, the editor of a newspaper in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, was found unconscious and covered in blood near his home on November 13. He had multiple fractures.

Doctors have amputated one of his legs and have had to delay another operation at Moscow's main emergency hospital, the Sklifosovsky Institute, because his condition is so serious.

"Mikhail is floating between life and death," Lyudmila Fedotova, a friend of Beketov's, told Reuters by telephone.

"He remains in a coma. The doctors say he is the most seriously ill patient in the intensive care unit of the Sklifosovsky Institute."

"This is what happens when you oppose certain people," Fedotova said. "If they finish me off then you can write a story about that too. I am no longer scared."

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said that threatening calls had been made to the hospital where Beketov was treated. The Sklifosovsky Institute declined to comment.

"Beketov has lost a leg and is still in a coma, but that is not all -- threatening calls were also made to the hospital where he was taken," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Violence against journalists continues to be very much in the news in Russia.... This cycle of violence must stop."

Reporters in Russia risk beatings and even death if they delve into the murky world where Russian politics and business overlap. Attackers are rarely convicted and journalists say they regularly receive threats.

Beketov, owner and editor of the paper "Khimskaya Pravda," was known for his opposition to plans by local officials to fell a forest to make way for a major road. He also wrote about corruption.

Those behind the killings of Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov -- the highest-profile reporters murdered during the eight-year rule of former President Vladimir Putin -- have still not been brought to justice.

Politkovskaya was shot dead on October 7, 2006 outside her flat in Moscow. The judge in the trial of three people accused of involvement in her killing opened the hearings to the public on November 17. Klebnikov was shot near his office on July 9, 2004.

A prominent reporter in Russia's Ingushetia region, Magomed Yevloyev, was shot dead in police custody in September. Investigators said a police officer had accidentally fired his gun at Yevloyev's head.

"It is impossible not to get angry when you think about these murders that too often remain unpunished," said Reporters Without Borders.