Russian journalists march against attacks on media

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Hundreds of reporters and bloggers rallied in central Moscow on Thursday to demand Kremlin answers on a spate of attacks against the media that have refocused attention on basic freedoms in Russia.

An estimated 400 to 500 demonstrators gathered in Moscow's Pushkin Square -- just blocks from the Kremlin -- with signs demanding "an end to the terror" and a full Kremlin investigation into the accumulating incidents.

"Attacks against reporters are attacks against readers," another sign read.

Moscow authorities took the unusual step of allowing the demonstration after the weekend attack on leading Russian reporter Oleg Kashin -- a prolific blogger who writes about controversial local issues and general social affairs.

His beating was caught on closed-circuit television and received heavy coverage on state TV news. It also quickly prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to vow unprecedented backing for media freedoms.

The Russian leader promised the nation that authorities would find Kashin's assailants "regardless of his position, place in society or accomplishments."

The tense media environment saw Russian investigators on Thursday reopen a mothballed probe into a brutal 2008 assault on another independent reporter who wrote about issues similar to those of Kashin.

The investigative committee of prosecutors announced that it was relaunching the case of Mikhail Beketov -- editor of the Khimkinskaya Pravda weekly in Khimiki suburb of Moscow that has been the location of a bitterly contested road construction plan.

The attack left the 52-year-old Beketov suffering from brain damage -- the first of several people who covered the expensive project to come under attack. The probe's reopening was never explained.

Doctors put the 30-year-old Kashin in an induced coma on his arrival in the hospital. The reporter had become responsive on Thursday but medics did not provide a prognosis.

The road construction plans through Moscow's protected woods have been surrounded by political controversy and unfortunate incidents happening to people who either cover issue or try to save the forests.

Konstantin Fetisov -- an environmentalist who also fought the forest's removal -- reported being attacked last week.

And suburban Moscow reporter Anatoly Adamchuk claimed to have been assaulted early Monday after writing articles about another forest. The police responded this week by accusing Adamchuk of staging his own assault.

The Pushkin Square demonstrators expressed fears that the Kremlin would only focus its attention on the more famous Kashin incident while quietly dropping its pursuit of the other investigations.

"Oleg Kashin is a public victim whom the president spoke about directly and now all the civil servants have to follow the president's orders," human rights campaigner Lev Ponomaryov said at the rally.

"But what will happen to Fetisov? After all, he is in a coma, too," Ponomaryov stressed.

The incidents provides Medvedev with a chance to sharpen his liberal credentials and distance himself from the more nationalist and police-friendly forces that prefer to rally around Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The former foreign intelligence agent Putin and Medvedev are the two major -- and perhaps only -- players of Russia's 2012 presidential election campaign.

Both have dropped hints they could be interested in running. But both have also vowed not to face each other directly on the ballot.

© 2010 AFP

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