Russian activist shot dead

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A prominent Russian activist who investigated abductions, killings and other rights abuses in Chechnya was shot dead yesterday. Natalya Estemirova was found lying on a road with two bullet wounds in her head hours after being kidnapped.

Four men forced her into a car in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and witnesses heard her yell that she was being abducted, according to Oleg Orlov, head of Memorial, one of Russia's most prominent rights organisations where Ms Estemirova worked.

Her body was found in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya to the west, not far from the region's main city of Nazran. She had two close-range bullet wounds in her head, according to Ingush Interior Ministry spokeswoman Madina Khadziyeva.

The killing came just hours after a news conference in Moscow where human rights groups presented a report saying that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other top officials should be prosecuted in an international court for crimes committed during the two wars that devastated Chechnya over the past 15 years. It was not immediately clear if Ms Estemirova's killing was connected to the report, prepared by several of Russia's top rights groups.

Ms Estemirova, a single mother in her early 40s, had collected evidence of rights abuses in Russia's volatile southern province of Chechnya since 1999, the start of the area's second war for independence from Russia.