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Hundreds rally at journalist's funeral in Russia

Image: Magomed Yevloyev
A picture taken on Dec. 4, 2007 shows Magomed Yevloyev, owner of the website in Moscow. The founder of the Web site and vocal critic of the Kremlin's policies in the Caucasus died on Aug. 31, 2008 from a bullet wound to the head while in police custody,.Sergey Mikheev / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hundreds of angry mourners protested Monday at the funeral of a government critic and independent Web site journalist killed by police in Russia's volatile North Caucasus, a rights activist said.

Colleagues said Magomed Yevloyev died Sunday after a police car picked him up from an airport in the Ingushetia province and then dumped him on the road with a gunshot wound in the head.

Regional prosecutor Yuri Turygin said a police officer "accidentally" shot Yevloyev after the journalist allegedly tried to take away the officer's gun, the Interfax news agency reported.

Colleagues and activists rejected that explanation. Rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov said he believes Yevloyev was "deliberately and cynically" killed by Ingush authorities as retribution for running an online publication that reported on widespread allegations of abuses, abductions and killings in Ingushetia.

"This was no accidental shot," Mutsolgov said, speaking to The Associated Press by phone.

Yevloyev's lawyer Kaloi Akhilgov told the Interfax news agency that Yevloyev was shot point-blank to the head.

Death described as 'murder'
The respected Memorial Human Rights Center, based in Moscow, called Yevloyev's death a "murder" and "yet another act of state terror."

Mutsolgov said up to 1,200 people attended the funeral near Ingushetia's main city, Nazran, as armed traffic police surrounded the site. Some in the crowd carried banners demanding the resignation of regional leader Murat Zyazikov and a fair investigation into Yevloyev's death.

A court in June ordered Yevloyev's Web site shut for spreading "extremist" statements, but the site reappeared online under a different name.

"This was the only source of information on the killings and other misdeeds of authorities here," Mutsolgov said.

People attend an opposition rally in Nazran on September 1, 2008. Several thousand people gathered in Nazran, the main city in the south Russian republic of Ingushetia, to protest against the alleged murder by police of Magomed Yevloyev a local journalist, opposition activist and website owner. AFP PHOTO / HASAN KAZIYEV (Photo credit should read HASAN KAZIYEV/AFP/Getty Images)Hasan Kaziyev / AFP

Ingushetia has been plagued by frequent raids and ambushes against federal forces and local authorities. Government critics attribute the attacks to anger fueled by abductions, beatings, unlawful arrests and killings of suspects by government forces and local allied paramilitaries.

On Monday, three law enforcement officers were killed in two separate incidents in Ingushetia, police reported. Unidentified gunmen killed two policemen and wounded a third in one incident, while three armed men gunned down a military officer in another incident.

Widespread abuses
In June, Human Rights Watch accused Russian security forces of widespread human rights abuses in Ingushetia, saying it has documented dozens of summary and arbitrary detentions, acts of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. It said officials in Ingushetia persecuted peaceful Muslims and government critics, marginalized opposition groups and stifled independent media.

The New York-based rights group warned that the "dirty war" tactics against insurgents would likely further destabilize the situation in Ingushetia and beyond in the North Caucasus.

Many in Ingushetia are intensely unhappy with Zyazikov, who became the regional leader during the presidency of Vladimir Putin — like Zyazikov, a former KGB officer. Zyazikov replaced a more popular leader who was dismissed.

Ingushetia is the smallest province in the ethnically mixed and impoverished North Caucasus region. It has close linguistic and cultural ties with neighboring Chechnya and sheltered tens of thousands of Chechen refugees.