Russian legislator Yushenkov slain by unidentified gunman

Western-style official known for his opposition to wars in Chechnya

April 18, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - An unidentified gunman shot and killed Sergei N. Yushenkov, a legislator and co-chairman of the Western-style Liberal Russia Party, in front of his home here last night.

The assassination, the second fatal shooting of a Liberal Russia leader in eight months, occurred hours after Yushenkov announced that the new party had registered to run candidates in parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

An aide told the Interfax news service Yushenkov, 52, was shot several times in the chest after getting out of his car and walking to the doorstep of his apartment house. A pistol was reportedly found next to his body.

Interior Ministry officials assigned a team of investigators specializing in contract killings to the case. Yushenkov's colleagues told reporters that they were mystified as to the motive for the murder.

In a nation where attacks on sitting legislators are disturbingly common, Yushenkov's killing was quickly deemed one of the most shocking since 1998, when another leading Western-style politician, Galina Starovoitova, was shot in St. Petersburg.

Like Starovoitova, Yushenkov had a reputation for upright behavior in a less-than-upright profession, and associates said last night that they doubted he had been involved in any criminal schemes of the sort commonly tied to political killings.

Yushenkov, a three-term member of Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, had been involved in politics since before the demise of the Soviet Union. He was known for his unyielding opposition to Russia's two wars in Chechnya.

In the Duma, he was aligned first with the Union of Right Forces, a conservative Western-style party. But he later quit to join Liberal Russia, a movement financed by the Russian mogul Boris A. Berezovsky, a bitter foe of President Vladimir V. Putin.

The party preaches a rigidly free-market, liberal democratic philosophy, and its alliance with Berezovsky quickly soured last fall when it was revealed that Berezovsky had quietly been courting support from the Communist Party for his opposition to Putin.

The party expelled Berezovsky in October, and it has been battling since then against Berezovsky's rear-guard attempts to claim the party as his political instrument.

Interviewed yesterday evening on the Russian television network NTVF, Berezovsky denied that his dispute with Liberal Russia leaders played any role in the murder, and suggested instead that the Kremlin was the logical suspect.

"I would like very much to hear who gave this order," he said. "There is one absolutely clear goal, among others, of course: to intimidate everybody ... ."

Its early association with Berezovsky, a widely reviled figure inside Russia, made Liberal Russia's prospects in this year's parliamentary elections uncertain. Yushenkov had said that he hoped for a third-place finish in the elections behind the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party and the Communists. Others considered that fanciful.

Eight months ago, another co-chairman of Liberal Russia, Vladimir Golovlyov, was killed in an apparently professional assassination as he walked his dog in suburban Moscow.

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