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Saturday, November 21, 1998 Published at 16:11 GMT

Allies and rivals condemn murder

Mrs Starovoytova's murder has shocked many Russian politicians

The killing of reformist Russian MP Galina Starovoitova drew expressions of shock and outrage from political allies and rivals alike on Saturday.

President Boris Yeltsin said he would personally oversee the investigation into her death: "Those who ordered and carried out this blatant action will not be able to hide. They will be found and punished severely," he pledged.

Yevgeny Primakov (in Russian): "I am outraged"
"Galina Vasilyevna [Starovoitova] defended the principles of freedom always and everywhere. One of the most outstanding figures in Russian politics, she has been my closest comrade-in-arms and assistant", Yeltsin said.

He said the shots which cut short Mrs Starovoitova's life had "wounded every Russian who holds dear democratic values. A brazen challenge has been thrown down to our entire society."

Former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar: "One of the strongest opponents of radical nationalism and communism"
"It is time to do away with banditry without delay" said Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev lamented "a great loss for Russia." He said he had "no doubt" that Mrs Starovoitova's murder was a political assassination.

Ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskiy also saw the killing as political. He said three members of his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia had been killed in St Petersburg recently, and six of his MPs had been killed in recent years.

Contract killings

"None of these investigations was concluded, although President Boris Yeltsin promised to personally control them," he said.

Although contract killings have become commonplace in Russia's turbulent transition to a market economy, there was widespread speculation that Mrs Starovoitova had been targeted by political extremists rather than business rivals.

Writer Vitaly Vitaliev, a friend of Mrs Starovoytova's: "She was loved, and she will be loved"
Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov said "crime has paralysed everything" in Russia.

"For gangsterism, terrorism and corruption, our country is among the top 10 countries in the world," he said.

A Moscow aide to Mrs Starovoitova ruled out any business connection in the killing, saying he had "only one assumption - that this is a political murder".

The aide, quoted by Itar-Tass news agency, said other MPs had threatened her during sittings of parliament.

Threats and insults

He noted that she had been planning to ask the Council of Europe to investigate the Russian parliamentary supporters of Communist MP Albert Makashov, who made anti-Semitic remarks recently.

"One can recall by name those who threatened her and insulted her at sittings in the State Duma," said the aide, who wished to remain anonymous.

Former acting prime minister Yegor Gaydar, a long-standing political ally of Mrs Starovoitova, called her a comrade in the political struggle for reform.

According to Russia TV the leadership of Gaydar's Russia's Democratic Choice met on Saturday, and "were united by their common grief, and many could not conceal their tears."

An Armenian journalist, Armen Petrosian, who was once Mrs Starovoitova's election agent, told Ekho Moskvy radio that she had constantly received threats.

"Constant threats were an integral part of her life, threats like we'll do this or that to you, we'll sort you out, you are this or that. One can't say she ignored them - she did pay attention to them. But what could she do?"

In an interview on Ekho Moskvy Radio, Oleg Sysuyev, the first deputy head of Yeltsin's staff, revealed that shortly before her murder, Mrs Starovoitova had asked to meet him regarding her concerns about political extremism in Russia.

"She made a very serious complaint," he said. "A person is killed who openly spoke out against extremism, who always called things by their name, a person who loved life, who could never be bought."

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