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Russian journalists funeral turns into a protest
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    MOSCOW — More than 1,000 angry mourners turned the funeral for a journalist critical of Russia’s government into a demonstration Monday, accusing police of lying when they said he was accidentally shot by an officer.
    Magomed Yevloyev died Sunday after a police car picked him up from an airport in Ingushetia province in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus and then dumped him on the road with a gunshot wound in his head.
    Up to 1,200 people turned out for his funeral, said rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov, who was among the crowd. They lined up to pay their last respects to Yevloyev. The journalist’s shrouded body was laid out on a large carpet, a blue headband hiding his wound.
    Armed traffic police surrounded the funeral site near Ingushetia’s main city, Nazran. Some in the crowd carried banners demanding the resignation of regional leader Murat Zyazikov and a fair investigation into Yevloyev’s death.
    Regional prosecutor Yuri Turygin said a police officer ‘‘accidentally’’ shot him after the journalist allegedly tried to take away the officer’s gun, the Interfax news agency reported. Yevloyev’s lawyer Kaloi Akhilgov told Interfax Yevloyev was shot in the head point-blank.
    Mutsolgov said he believes Yevloyev was ‘‘deliberately and cynically’’ killed by Ingush authorities as retribution for running an online publication that reported on widespread allegations of abuses, abductions and killings in Ingushetia.
    ‘‘This was no accidental shot,’’ Mutsolgov told The Associated Press by phone.
    Critics say Russia witnessed a steady rollback of post-Soviet media and political freedoms during Vladimir Putin’s eight-year presidency and became one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists with more than a dozen reporters slain in contract-style killings since 2000. Victims included Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter who won acclaim for her reporting of atrocities against civilians in war-scarred Chechnya and was killed in 2006.
    A court in June ordered Yevloyev’s Web site shut for allegedly spreading ‘‘extremist’’ statements, but the site reappeared online under a different name.
    ‘‘This was the only source of information on the killings and other misdeeds of authorities here,’’ Mutsolgov said.
    Ingushetia is the smallest province in the ethnically mixed and impoverished North Caucasus region. It has close linguistic and cultural ties with neighboring Chechnya and sheltered tens of thousands of Chechen refugees.
    Ingushetia has been plagued by frequent raids and ambushes against federal forces and local authorities. Government critics attribute the attacks to anger fueled by abductions, beatings, unlawful arrests and killings of suspects by government forces and local allied paramilitaries.
    Many in Ingushetia are intensely unhappy with Zyazikov, who became the regional leader during the presidency of Putin, who like Zyazikov is a former KGB officer. Zyazikov replaced a more popular leader who was dismissed.
    In June, Human Rights Watch accused Russian security forces of widespread human rights abuses in Ingushetia, saying it has documented dozens of summary and arbitrary detentions, acts of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. It said officials in Ingushetia persecuted peaceful Muslims and government critics, marginalized opposition groups and stifled independent media.
    The New York-based rights group warned that the ‘‘dirty war’’ tactics against insurgents would likely further destabilize the situation in Ingushetia and beyond in the North Caucasus. It compared Russian counterinsurgency tactics in Ingushetia to rampant rights abuses in Chechnya which experienced two separatist wars in the past 14 years.
    The Memorial Human Rights Center, based in Moscow, called Yevloyev’s death a ‘‘murder’’ and ‘‘yet another act of state terror.’’
    Associated Press Writer Sergei Venyavsky contributed to this report from Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

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