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Last Updated: Monday, 9 January 2006, 15:51 GMT
Key Ukraine murder trial begins
Former police officers Mykola Protasov (left) and Valery Kostenko
The ex-police officers are accused of carrying out the killing in 2000
The trial of three former policemen charged with killing one of Ukraine's most prominent opposition journalists has started in Kiev.

The killing of Georgiy Gongadze five years ago sparked widespread popular protests, which ultimately culminated in last year's Orange Revolution.

Mr Gongadze was an outspoken critic of the former regime led by Leonid Kuchma.

President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power when the old regime fell, says the case is a top priority for him.

Secret recordings

Mr Gongadze was abducted and his headless body was discovered later in a forest.

Valeriy Kostenko, Mykola Protasov and Oleksandr Popovych are accused of carrying out the actual killing in September 2000.

Another suspect, ex-police officer, Oleksiy Pukach is believed to have fled abroad. But no-one has been charged with giving the order for Mr Gongadze's murder.

Georgiy Gongadze
Georgiy Gongadze was abducted and killed in September 2000

Mr Kuchma was later alleged to be implicated through secret recordings.

Last year, a parliamentary commission examining the killing claimed that the former president was one of the organisers of Mr Gongadze's kidnapping. Mr Kuchma denies any involvement in the death.

Outside the Kiev court on Monday, Mr Gongadze's widow Myroslava said the trial was an important step, but that those who ordered the killing should face justice.

"They are known and they should be punished just the same as those who will be sitting in the dock today," she said.

Journalists and relatives complained that they could not all fit into the small courtroom to witness proceedings.

The trial heard procedural issues and no pleas were entered. The hearing was then adjourned to 23 January after one of the defendents, Mykola Protasov, was taken ill.

When President Yushchenko came to power, he said investigating the murder was a matter of honour for him, but solving the case has subsequently proved to be difficult.

Last year, a former interior minister who was supposed to testify in the case committed suicide only a few hours before he was due to give evidence.

Ukraine's prosecutor-general has been sacked for making slow progress.

Notorious murder grips Ukraine
01 Apr 05 |  Europe

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