April 7, 2015 / 2:38 PM / 3 years ago

Russians honor slain opposition figure 40 days on

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Several hundred Russians paid tribute to opposition figure Boris Nemtsov on Tuesday by lighting candles and laying flowers on the bridge near the Kremlin where he was shot dead 40 days ago.

A man lays flowers at the site where Russian politician Boris Nemtsov was killed, to commemorate him at the Great Moskvoretsky Bridge in central Moscow April 7, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

A few drivers answered opposition leaders’ calls to sound their horns at 11 a.m. while the mourners stood in silence, marking a Russian Orthodox tradition of honoring people 40 days after they die. Some wiped away tears.

Many were also frustrated that the person or people who ordered the murder had not been found and that President Vladimir Putin shows no sign of responding to the public outcry from Nemtsov’s supporters by easing up on opponents.

“Nothing has changed,” said Lyudmila Yakimenko, a 65-year-old pensioner on the Great Moskvoretsky Bridge, which is overlooked by the Kremlin’s red brick fortress walls. “There’s no future for Russia. I am so sad.”

Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot by men who followed him in a car late on Feb. 27 as he walked home with his girlfriend.

He had helped organize protests against Putin in the winter of 2011-12 and was gathering what he called evidence of Moscow’s backing for separatists in east Ukraine before his death. Investigators have not agreed on the motive for the murder.

CHECHEN LINK?

Although five men from the Muslim Chechnya region have been arrested over the killing, opponents say the person who ordered it may never be found, partly because it could end up revealing a link to allies of the Kremlin.

The main suspect, Zaur Dadaev, served with Chechen police troops who answer to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin ally. Dadaev, however, said in court last week he had confessed to the killing only after being beaten.

“The Kremlin doesn’t want to name the people who ordered the killing because it all leads to Chechnya,” Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former member of parliament, told Reuters.

“The authorities haven’t changed, it’s the same policy of repression. The authorities want people to forget about Boris Nemtsov as soon as possible.”

Putin has described the murder as a shameful tragedy and ordered national security agencies to work together to find the killers. Sources close to the Kremlin say the president, who was inexplicably absent from public view for 10 days shortly after the murder, saw it as a challenge to his personal authority.

Russians are far from united in admiring Nemtsov. Parliament refused to hold a minute of silence for him and few people outside the big cities have mourned him.

Moscow authorities have tried to remove the makeshift monument of flowers, portraits, sketches and flowers on the bridge where he was shot, but his supporters have replaced it.

Encouraged by a march in honor of Nemtsov two days after his death that attracted tens of thousands, the opposition has started talks on joining forces to contest a parliamentary election in 2016.

Ilya Yashin, an opposition leader, said: “Kremlin policy will change only when we force the Kremlin to change policy.”

Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Crispian Balmer

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