, MOSCOW, Russia, Mar 1 – Supporters of Boris Nemtsov were preparing to march through Moscow Sunday afternoon in an outpouring of anger and grief at the brutal murder of the opposition leader and fervent critic of Vladimir Putin, who has vowed to bring the killers to justice.
The 55-year-old former deputy premier was shot in the back several times just before midnight Friday as he walked across a bridge a stone’s throw from the Kremlin walls.
Nemtsov’s killing turned an opposition protest he had planned for Sunday into a memorial march, with mourning supporters set to cross the bridge where he died, now laden with flowers and photos.
Putin on Saturday vowed to punish the killers, as Russian opposition figures denounced what they called a “political murder” and Western leaders called for a full probe.
Hours before the killing, Nemtsov had gone on a popular radio station to urge people to join the original Sunday opposition rally on calling for “an immediate end to the war in Ukraine”, adding that Putin should resign. Moscow authorities had given approval for up to 50,000 people to attend.
The brazen assassination is the latest in a string of murders of opposition figures in Putin’s 15 years in power and recalls the shooting of anti-Kremlin reporter Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down on Putin’s birthday in October 2006.
Putin blamed the latest killing on foes trying to discredit the Kremlin, but vowed Saturday in a message to the victim’s mother to do all he could so “the organisers and perpetrators of a vile and cynical murder get the punishment they deserve.”
Allies of Nemtsov, a longtime anti-corruption crusader who served as deputy premier under Boris Yeltsin, linked his death to his opposition to the Kremlin’s policies.
“This was ordered by Putin, without a shadow of a doubt,” said 59-year-old Alexander Badiyev. “They have shown us what the fate will be of all those who are against them.”
Investigators said gunmen fired at least eight shots from a car as Nemtsov walked with a woman named by Russian media as 23-year-old Ukrainian model Anna Duritskaya, who was unhurt.
Footage aired by Russian TVC channel from a distant camera showed the suspected killer running along the road and jumping into a waiting car which then sped off.
The camera angle left Nemtsov and his companion hidden from view.
“There is already a list of unsolved political murders and attacks in Russia,” Amnesty International said. “We cannot allow Boris Nemtsov to become just another name on this list.”
– ‘Tragedy for democracy’ –
Opposition figures linked Nemtsov’s death to his open criticisms of Putin and in particular Russia’s policy on Ukraine.