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Local journalists and family members believe that a cameraman found dead on 5 April was murdered, report the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), who are calling for a full investigation.

Vyacheslav Ifanov, a cameraman with the television station Novoye Televideniye Aleiska (NTA), was found dead in his car in Aleisk, a small Siberian town with a population of 30,000.

Prosecutors have classified Ifanov's death as suicide by gas poisoning - a neighbour reportedly found Ifanov in his garage with the car running and the doors locked from the inside - but relatives and colleagues suspect foul play. According to CPJ, the journalist's family said Ifanov's body showed bruising on the lower lip and wrist, as well as deep scratches on the left side of his head.

The night before he died, Ifanov was featured in a television report that described an earlier attack against him and the reluctance of local police to investigate, says CPJ. Ifanov said in the report that he hoped to identify his attackers with the help of police. He was referring to an incident on 21 January, when he was attacked and given a concussion for filming what he thought was a suspicious gathering of men in camouflage.

According to local press reports, Ifanov had received threats prior to his death and was told to withdraw his criminal complaint for the January attack. "Based on the circumstances surrounding his death, the wounds found on his body, and possible threats he had received prior to his alleged suicide, we call on Russian authorities to investigate every lead, including the possibility that Ifanov was murdered," CPJ says.

In a separate development, Russian riot police violently quashed opposition demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg, during the biggest weekend of protests against President Vladimir Putin's regime, say Human Rights Watch and press reports.

According to official sources, the authorities deployed 9,000 riot police and special forces to control the 2,000-strong march in Moscow and several other small political meetings. They detained more than 250 people and beat several demonstrators, including journalists who were covering the protest. In St. Petersburg the following day, police in crash helmets beat and arrested some of the 500 protesters.

The Dissenters' Marches are the third and fourth events in recent months to be suppressed or violently dispersed by police in a key election year. Participants in the Dissenters' Marches include the "Other Russia" coalition, Kremlin opponents from across the political spectrum. They say Putin has trampled on democratic freedoms and demand a free and fair presidential election in 2008, as well as a free parliamentary poll in December.

"This police violence is only the latest example of growing government hostility toward peaceful dissent in Russia," says Holly Cartner of Human Rights Watch. "It has to be viewed in the context of intensifying harassment of the political opposition, human rights defenders, and independent media in Russia."

Visit these links:
- Alert on Ifanov:
- CPJ on Ifanov:
- Human Rights Watch on Dissenters' Marches:
- BBC on marches:
(17 April 2007)

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