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Russian activists bitter, angry over attacked campaigner's death


Colleagues and friends on Tuesday expressed shock and anger over the sudden death of Russian journalist and activist Mikhail Beketov, who was left crippled after a 2008 attack linked to his work that has yet to be solved be the authorities.

Beketov, who died Monday aged 55, had been painstakingly regaining his strength and abilities after assailants brutally attacked him with baseball bats and left him for dead in November 2008.

But five years later, those who ordered and carried out the crime have not been found despite a promise by Vladimir Putin in 2011 to "push the probe along".

Beketov, who ran an independent and critical newspaper in the Moscow suburb town of Khimki, had strongly opposed the building of a new road through a local forest.

He connected the repeated attempts on his life to the local authorities, who had lobbied for the Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway project.

"Nobody is trying to find those who attacked him with baseball bats," the head of Russia's Glasnost Defence Foundation Alexei Simonov told AFP.

"There is no desire to find out who they are."

Amnesty International said on Tuesday that Beketov had been targeted after writing about corruption surrounding the highway construction, and received multiple threats prior to the beating: his car was set on fire and his dog was killed.

"Everyone warned him against writing about this project," the NGO's Russian office said.

"This man went through such an ordeal," rights activist Andrei Stolbunov, who ran a support fund for Beketov, wrote on Facebook.

"One piece of evidence in his criminal case is a piece of his skull. That he survived after laying in the cold for 15 hours can only be called a miracle."

Despite colossal neurological damage, Beketov began to walk again last year and continued meeting with journalists, even though his ability to speak never fully returned.

It was not clear whether he died after suffering a heart attack while having a meal during a routine hospital check-up, or choked on a piece of food, Stolbunov said.

"Mikhail Beketov fought to the end," the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday. "He was a symbol of a Russia that struggles... Today it is more important than ever that his attackers be brought to justice. We demand the truth."

The highway project has ploughed on despite multiple protests, assaults on activists, and international scrutiny.

Beketov's beating was followed by several others, including that of campaigner Konstantin Fetisov. A trial against the suspected mastermind of that crime, a local official, is still in progress.