Arrests over Russian journalist's murder

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Ten people have been arrested in the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and will be charged soon, the chief prosecutor said today.

"We have made serious progress in the case of the murder of the journalist Politkovskaya," Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika told President Vladimir Putin in televised remarks. "As of today, 10 people have been arrested in this case, and literally in the nearest future they will be charged with the commission of this grave crime."

Politkovskaya, a critic of Putin who exposed human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building in October.

Her killing drew international attention, compounding concern about the safety of journalists and Kremlin critics in Russia. Putin sparked outrage abroad when he seemed to dismiss Politkovskaya shortly after her killing, saying her influence on Russian political life was "very minor."

Chaika did not identify those arrested, or say when they were detained.

A Moscow district court approved the arrests of eight suspects in Politkovskaya's killing on Friday, city court spokeswoman Anna Usacheva said, suggesting the suspects were detained within the last few days. There was no immediate explanation for the different numbers.

Chaika's remarks were the first announcement of arrests in the October 7 killing, which Western governments have urged Russian authorities to solve. The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 journalists have been killed in contract-style murders since Putin took office in 2000.

There had been no word of specific progress in the case for months. In April, the journalists' advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said there appeared to have been no progress in the investigation, and called for an international commission or parliamentary inquiry if authorities produced no concrete and conclusive evidence.

Politkovskaya's killing came less than two months before the radiation poisoning death in London of Kremlin critic and former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko, which further damaged Russian leadership's reputation abroad. Litvinenko blamed Putin on his deathbed.

Days after Politkovskaya's death, Putin suggested her killing could have been plotted by Kremlin foes abroad to harm Russia's image, and his allies have made similar remarks about Litvinenko's death, pointing to Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider who is one of Putin's fiercest critics and lives in Britain, where he has refugee status.

In November, Chaika said a possible foreign connection was among several theories being investigated in the Politkovskaya case.

Politkovskaya, who was 48, was a highly respected journalist whose tireless reporting chronicling the killings, tortures and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen in Chechnya put her on a collision course with authorities, but won her numerous international awards.

She also wrote a book critical of Putin and his military campaign in Chechnya, documenting widespread abuse of civilians by government troops. And she was a persistent critic of Kremlin-backed Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, accusing his security forces of kidnapping and torturing civilians.

Much speculation about her death has focused on Kadyrov, who was prime minister of the war-scarred region when she was killed and became its president in March. He has denied involvement.

Alexei Simonov, chairman of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a leading Russian media rights watchdog, said he and the staff of Politkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, knew of the arrests a week ago.

"I think these are serious arrests based on real evidence," Simonov said, asserting that the motive was "undoubtedly linked to Chechnya."

He said that those arrested likely included the shooter and accomplices who set up surveillance. But while he said he was confident investigators had tracked down Politkovskaya's killers, he expressed concern that the truth about who was behind the slaying could prove more elusive.

He said the staff of Novaya Gazeta feared the authorities would "steer the case in the direction of London" and blame Politkovskaya's killing on Berezovsky.

Weeks after the killing, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that investigators were focusing on former Russian police officers linked to crimes against civilians in Chechnya.

Pointing to Russian prosecutors' unenviable record in solving journalists' slayings, Igor Yakovenko, head of the Russian Union of Journalists, voiced caution about the prosecutor's announcement.

"I really want to hope that we have reached a turning point, but I think we should wait for concrete results," Yakovenko said on Ekho Moskvy radio.