Prosecutors Investigating Whether Russian Writer Killed Because of Reporting

Prosecutors said Sunday they would examine whether Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was killed because of her work — investigative reports critical of President Vladimir Putin's war in Chechnya that colleagues say made her a target for murder.

Politkovskaya, famed for her unsparing coverage of abuses against civilians in the war-ravaged Russian region of Chechnya, was found dead Saturday in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building from two gunshot wounds — one to the head. She was 48.

The slaying provoked worldwide condemnation, with calls for the government to make every effort to find her killers. Her colleagues called it a revenge murder for her reportage.

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Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika personally took charge of the investigation, his office said Sunday, citing the "particular importance [of the case] and its wide resonance within society."

The investigation will focus on possible links between the killing and Politkovskaya's work, Marina Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's office, said Sunday.

"All versions are being examined, but of course the main one we are looking at is the professional activity of the journalist," she said in comments televised on NTV.

Politkovskaya's newspaper, the biweekly Novaya Gazeta, called her death a revenge killing for her coverage of Chechnya. Her editors said she was due Monday to publish an investigative article about torture and kidnappings in Chechnya based on witness accounts and photos of tortured bodies.

"We never got the article, but she had evidence about these [abducted] people and there were photographs," Deputy Editor Vitaly Yerushensky, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Oleg Orlov, of Russia's main human rights group, Memorial, said that he was certain Politkovskaya was killed on the orders of those responsible for abuses in Chechnya.

"For me it's clear that directly or indirectly this was done by people who have carried out state terror, the terror that we see in the North Caucasus," Orlov told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, hundreds rallied in downtown Moscow Sunday to protest Politkovskaya's murder and the Russian crackdown on Georgians.

Politkovskaya became a major focus of the protest that drew about 500 demonstrators to Pushkin Square, although the rally had been called to voice criticism of the deportation of more than 100 Georgians and closure of Georgian-owned restaurants and businesses in Moscow in the wake of Russia's bitter spy row with its small southern neighbor.

One man held up a photograph of the reporter with the words underneath: "Politkovskaya's killing and the persecution of an ethnic minority is fascism." Another poster said: "The Kremlin has killed freedom of speech."

With photographs of the slain journalist prominently in view, a few demonstrators held up flickering candles in her memory, some tearfully.

A number of the protesters had yellow stars pinned to their chests to suggest that the Russian authorities' singling out of the Georgians made them feel like Jews during World War II.

Politkovskaya, one of the few Russian journalists writing about widespread human rights abuses in Chechnya, had been a persistent critic of the region's Moscow-backed prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov, and had accused his forces of torture and the abductions of civilians.

Novaya Gazeta said on its Web site it believed her murder was either revenge by Kadyrov or an attempt to discredit him.

In a recent radio interview, Politkovskaya said she was a witness in a criminal case against Kadyrov concerning his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of two civilians — an ethnic Russian and a Chechen — who were tortured and killed.

Liberal lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov said he was "100 percent convinced it was a political assassination."

"I think that most likely that a Chechen connection is traceable there," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Politkovskaya also angered other powerful people — including the Russian military — with her investigative reporting and human rights advocacy.

Her execution-style killing underlined the increasingly dangerous environment for journalists working in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000 and launched a crackdown on media freedoms.

Her death brings to at least 13 the number of journalists killed in contract-style killings in the past six years, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Politkovskaya's death was the most high-profile slaying of a journalist in Russia since the July 2004 assassination of Paul Klebnikov, the U.S.-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev condemned Politkovskaya's killing as "a blow to the entire, democratic, independent press," Interfax said.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was "shocked and profoundly saddened" by her death, praising her "shining a light on human rights abuses and other atrocities of the war in Chechnya" and the plight of Chechen refugees.

The Council of Europe, a leading human rights watchdog whose executive body currently is led by Russia, called a quick and convincing investigation.

Politkovskaya had been under repeated threat. In 2004, she fell seriously ill with symptoms of food poisoning after drinking tea on a flight from Moscow to southern Russia during the school hostage crisis in Beslan. Her colleagues suspected it was an attempt on her life.

Politkovskaya began reporting on Chechnya in 1999 during Russia's second military campaign there, concentrating less on military engagements than on the human side of the war.

Large-scale fighting since has ended but Russia remains locked in conflict with a hardcore of separatist rebels, and allegations of kidnappings, torture and murder of civilians blamed on Russian forces and their Chechen allies persist.

Politkovskaya is survived by two adult children.