- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

MOSCOW — More than 1,000 relatives, friends and admirers paid their final respects yesterday at the funeral of a slain investigative reporter who had criticized President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s conduct in Chechnya.

In Germany, Mr. Putin called the killing of Anna Politkovskaya a “disgustingly cruel” crime that cannot go unpunished, but he also played down her influence on Russian political life as “very minor.”

Miss Politkovskaya, 48, was fatally shot in her apartment building Saturday in an apparent contract killing. Her death threw a new spotlight on the risks faced by journalists who criticize Russian authorities and dig deep to expose abuses.

At home and abroad, the slaying has drawn widespread concern about press freedom in Russia and calls for authorities to find and punish her killers.

More than 1,000 mourners filed past an open casket in which Miss Politkovskaya lay in a funeral hall on the outskirts of Moscow, her forehead covered with a white ribbon, in accordance with Russian Orthodox tradition. They placed flowers, mostly roses and carnations, around the coffin, and held thin yellow prayer candles. Many wept.

“She was an endlessly honest reporter. … Her every fact was based on an investigation. She was also a mediator, a rights activist. She was trusted; she was unique,” said Alexei Venediktov, editor in chief of the Echo of Moscow radio station.

No high-ranking Kremlin or government official made an appearance, although U.S. Ambassador William Joseph Burns attended.

Mr. Putin made his first public comments about the killing while meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dresden, Germany. While condemning the attack, he questioned the power of Miss Politkovskaya’s work, saying that she was known in human rights circles and in the West but that “the level of her influence on political life in Russia was very minor.”

Mr. Putin had told President Bush in a phone conversation that authorities would do everything necessary to solve the case, the Kremlin said Monday.

Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika has taken personal charge of the investigation, but Miss Politkovskaya’s colleagues have expressed doubts that her slaying will be solved. Her newspaper has pledged to conduct an independent investigation and offered a $930,000 reward for information that would help solve the crime.

A fierce critic of the wars in Chechnya, Miss Politkovskaya reported on abuses by forces of the Russian military and Moscow-backed government. Colleagues said she had been working on a story about torture and abductions in Chechnya, abuses she blamed on Moscow-backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

The newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where Miss Politkovskaya had worked, said Sunday that the killing was either revenge by Mr. Kadyrov or an attempt to discredit him. In a newspaper interview published Monday, Mr. Kadyrov denied any link to Chechnya in the killing.

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