Stalin's grandson loses libel action

A Russian court ruled against Josef Stalin's grandson in a libel suit over a newspaper article that said the Soviet dictator had sent thousands of people to their deaths.

A Moscow district court rejected the claim by Yevgeny Dzhugashvili that Novaya Gazeta defamed Stalin in an April article that referred to the leader as a "bloodthirsty cannibal". A ruling against Novaya Gazeta would have been seen as an exoneration of Stalin more than 50 years after his death.

It would have been a setback to Russian liberals who say the country must acknowledge its bloody past and who accuse the Kremlin of whitewashing history. The ruling was a rare victory for Stalin's critics in their fight against efforts to rehabilitate the dictator who, according to the rights group Memorial, ordered the deaths of at least 724,000 people during purges in the 1930s.

"Behind the plaintiff's bench are those who are throttling freedom... and giving the country back to Stalin," the defence lawyer Genri Reznik told the court.