Top Russian reporter in serious condition after attack

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A leading Russian reporter brutally attacked in central Moscow by unknown individuals at the weekend was in a serious condition Sunday after being put into an induced coma, reports said.

Oleg Kashin, who covers the sensitive issues of opposition protests and youth groups for the respected Kommersant daily, suffered fractures to his jaw, concussion and broken fingers in the attack early Saturday.

Kommersant has said that the attack was clearly linked to Kashin's work and the investigative committee of prosecutors have opened a probe into attempted murder.

"His condition is serious," a source in Moscow hospital number 36 where he is being treated told the Interfax news agency.

Kommerant employee Mikhail Kirtser, who visited the hospital, said in a statement on the Kommersant website that the journalist's condition was "extremely serious" and "doctors are doing everything" to help him.

Kashin, 30, was hit with a hard object outside his apartment block in central Moscow and doctors immediately put him into an induced coma to maximise his chances of a recovery.

The attackers did not bother to steal the telephone, money and documents that Kashin had on him at the time, leaving his colleagues and fellow journalists certain that the attack was linked to his work.

"The criminals knew who they were attacking and why they were attacking," Kommersant said in a statement. "The brutality was a demonstration, an example."

Kommersant said that "his life is not in danger" adding that "this is the only good news".

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Russia's prosecutor general Yury Chaika and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to take personal control of the investigation and said "the criminals must be punished".

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described Kashin as "one of his generation's most brilliant and courageous journalists" and urged an independent investigation.

"We are awaiting signs of a real political will on the part of the Russian authorities to defend and ensure respect for the independent press," said RSF secretary general Jean-Francois Julliard.

Meanwhile, 20 people holding a demonstration in support of Kashin in the Siberian city of Omsk were arrested by the security forces, opposition Solidarity movement member Mikhail Maglov told Moscow Echo radio.

In recent months, Kashin had been closely following demonstrations against the building of a highway through Khimki forest outside Moscow, which Medvedev has now put on hold pending a review, in a rare nod to popular pressure.

Journalists and activists following the Khimki highway controversy have in the past been targeted by attackers.

Konstantin Fetisov, head of the local branch of the opposition Right Cause party for Khimki, was beaten after attending a protest Thursday against the dumping of household waste in the area.

Local newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov, who had been highly critical of the local Khimki administration, was assaulted in November 2008, losing a leg and several fingers.

Dozens of journalists have been beaten and even killed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most notably campaigning writer Anna Politkovskaya who was gunned down in her apartment building in 2006.

More than four years after her murder, no-one has been found guilty of the killing.

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 52 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992 and the country ranks eighth on its impunity index for journalist killings.

© 2010 AFP

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