In an outpouring of emotion not seen since the death in 1968 of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, crowds gathered at the Moscow apartment building where the journalist, Vladislav Listyev, 38, was shot dead by two gunmen on Wednesday evening. Red carnations piled up on the wall and pavement outside.
All of Russia's five main television channels suspended normal broadcasting for most of the day, showing either test cards or special tributes to the murdered producer, the star of several of Russia's most popular programmes.
The shock united even the fiercest of political rivals. President Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev both visited the Ostankino television studios in northern Moscow where Mr Listyev had worked and only last month become head of a new semi-privatised national network. Anatoly Sobchak, the Mayor of St Petersburg, called the murder a "national tragedy".
President Yeltsin, his popularity ratings pushed down into single digits by the war in Chechnya and by general discontent with what is increasingly seen as his corrupt and rudderless regime, condemned the killing in front of Ostankino staff and blamed Moscow's municipal authorities for laxity. He declared the city's police chief and prosecutor were sacked but resisted calls for the dismissal of the Interior Minister, Viktor Yerin, a close political ally.
While defending his coterie of supporters, Mr Yeltsin delivered a thinly disguised broadside against the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, a former ally who has emerged as a possible candidate for the presidency. Only in Moscow, said Mr Yeltsin, was there "such a merging of the mafia with various commercial structures, with administrative agencies, the Interior Ministry bodies, the authorities of the city, while the authorities of these bodies turn a blind eye to these things".
A procession of leading film stars, writers and other public figures appeared on television and radio to voice rage and sorrow over what was almost certainly a contract killing. Yegor Gaidar and the head of the revamped Ostankino network both blamed a turf-battle over control of Russia's lucrative and highly corrupt television advertising industry.
"We were afraid of ourselves, we are afraid of turning Russia into a police state and are afraid to toughen our struggle against these bands," Mr Yeltsin said. "In Uzbekistan they seized and executed six groups of bandits. They were executed by Interior Ministry bodies and things began to improve immediately." While promising to make "mafia groups tremble", he said: "I am not calling for a state of emergency. We do not need a state of emergency."
There has been widespread speculation since the start of the war in Chechnya on 11 December that Mr Yeltsin might try to impose some form of emergency rule and call off elections for parliament scheduled for this December, and for the presidency in June next year.
"The murder of Vladislav Listyev is a ritual of the mafia which is demonstrating that it can do anything in this country," said Eduard Sagalayev, president of TV-6.
Alla Yaroshinskaya, a member of the Presidential Council, said: "The sense of shock is compounded by a feeling of collapse... Not only have my ideals collapsed, but the hope that there can still be anything good in our country.''
The police announced last night that six witnesses had seen two men approach the apartment building, and that their testimony was being used to prepare identikit pictures of the suspected killers.
But, with the murders of three members of parliament and dozens of businessmen unsolved, few believe the murderers of Mr Listyev will be found.
Obituary, page 16
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