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Russians march in memory of murdered Putin critic


THOUSANDS of Russians marched through central Moscow Sunday, carrying banners declaring: “I am not afraid” and chanting “Russia without Putin” in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov.

  Families, the old and young, walked slowly, with many holding portraits of the opposition politician and former deputy prime minister who was shot dead while walking home from a restaurant in central Moscow on Friday night.

  The authorities have suggested the opposition itself may have been behind his shooting in an attempt to create a martyr and unite the fractured movement.

  His supporters have blamed the authorities.

  “If we can stop the campaign of hate that’s being directed at the opposition, then we have a chance to change Russia. If not, then we face the prospect of mass civil conflict,” Gennady Gudkov, an opposition leader, told Reuters.

  “The authorities are corrupt and don’t allow any threats to them to emerge. Boris was uncomfortable for them.”

His murder has divided opinion in a country where for years after the Soviet Union collapsed many yearned for the stability later brought by former KGB agent Putin.

Some now fear his rule has become an autocracy that flaunts international norms after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula last year, fanned nationalism over the separatist war in eastern Ukraine and clamped down on dissent.

  “(Nemtsov) was harmful to the authorities, but the authorities themselves are criminal. The authorities have trampled on all international rights, seized Crimea, started war with Ukraine,” said Yuri Voinov, a elderly physicist.

  Police said 16,000 people attended the march. The organizers put the numbers at tens of thousands, but attendance appeared smaller than the 50,000 people the opposition had hoped for.

  People walked in the rain within view of the Kremlin’s red walls and past the spot, now covered in flowers, where Nemtsov was shot dead.

  Some carried large banners carrying Nemtsov’s face reading “Heroes Never Die”, the same slogan used in Ukraine to celebrate more than 100 people killed in protests that overthrew Moscow-leaning President Viktor Yanukovich a year ago.

  One elderly woman, her hair tucked into a woolen cap, held up a hand-written sign to cover her face: “It’s a geopolitical catastrophe when a KGB officer declares himself president for life. Putin resign!”

  Putin has vowed to pursue those who killed Nemtsov, calling the murder a “provocation”.

  National investigators who answer to the Russian leader offered a 3-million-rouble reward, around $50,000, for information on Nemtsov’s death. They say they are pursuing several lines of inquiry, including the possibility that Nemtsov, a Jew, was killed by radical Islamists or that the opposition killed him to blacken Putin’s name.

  Putin’s opponents say such suggestions, repeated over pro-Kremlin media, show the cynicism of Russia’s leaders as they whip up nationalism, hatred and anti-Western hysteria to rally support for his policies on Ukraine and deflect blame for an economic crisis.

  “We are told on TV that a conspiracy by the West and those among us who have sold out to them are behind our poverty. People should throw away the TV set and go to protest,” said Olga, 42, who declined to give her last name.

Some Muscovites have accepted the official line and appear to agree that the opposition, struggling to make an impact after a clampdown on dissent in Putin’s third spell as president, might have killed one of their own.

  “The authorities definitely do not benefit from this. Everybody had long forgotten about this man, Nemtsov … It is definitely a ‘provocation’,” said one Moscow resident, who gave his name only as Denis.


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