Hundreds mourn Russian killer colonel

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Hundreds of people on Monday attended the funeral of Yuri Budanov, the army colonel convicted of strangling to death a Chechen girl a decade ago in a case that still divides Russia.

Budanov, whose crime for many symbolised the abuses committed by the Russian army in the post-Soviet wars in Chechnya, was shot dead in Moscow on Friday by an unknown gunman.

The corpse of Budanov was laid to rest in a cemetery in the nothern Moscow suburb of Khimki at a ceremony attended by hundreds of people and marked by a heavy police presence, according to an AFP photographer.

When Budanov's coffin was placed in the ground, uniformed servicemen fired three shots into the air in an honour salute.

While rights groups expressed outrage that he was allowed early release from jail in 2009, nationalists have long regarded Budanov as a hero who was singled out for doing a soldier's duty.

The funeral was attended by Russian nationalist leaders, including the head of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose party holds a significant minority of seats in parliament.

Zhirinovsky told Moscow Echo radio that he would now work to rehabilitate Budanov and restore the decoration and rank that were withdrawn after his conviction.

"He did his duty in the last war in the Caucasus. Maybe we will also manage to have a street named after him," he said.

Budanov was the commander of a tank regiment that was deployed in Chechnya shortly after the start of the Kremlin's second war against rebels in 1999 and was decorated for his bravery.

But he was arrested in March 2000 on charges of killing and raping Elza Kungayeva, 18. In July 2003, after a trial of over two years that was widely criticised for its slow pace, he was jailed for 10 years.

Charges of raping Elza Kungayeva were however dropped during the trial although rights activists still believe there was firm forensic evidence to convict Budanov on this count.

© 2011 AFP

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