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Ukraine reporter's widow blames Kuchma (updated)

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Sept. 16, 2011, 2:54 p.m. |
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Eleven years after Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was abducted and brutally killed, his widow Myroslava finally has faint hope that the masterminds of the crime will be brought to justice. Former Ukrainian President Kuchma is slated to go on trial on charges of abuse of office in connection with the killing in the coming months.

Prosecutors contend he gave illegal orders to his subordinates that eventually led to Gongadze's death.

"I believe that Kuchma is to blame for Gia's death," the 39-year-old said, using Heorhiy's nickname. "Kuchma, his surrounding and the machine for settling scores with political opponents and journalists."

Myroslava spoke late Thursday by telephone from Washington D.C. where she and her two daughters have been given political asylum.

Journalists, activists and friends were to hold a rally in Kiev in Gongadze's memory later Friday.

The killing of Gongadze, who crusaded against official corruption, triggered months of protests against the president, a movement dubbed "Ukraine without Kuchma."

Those protests were seen as a precursor to the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overthrew the fraud-tainted victory of Kuchma's protege Viktor Yanukovych.

But Yanukovych returned to power after winning presidential elections last year. Some say the case against Kuchma is his attempt to boost his own popularity by portraying himself as a leader committed to the rule of law.

Kuchma, denies the allegations and says that the prosecutors' key evidence — tape recordings in which he allegedly conspires against the journalist — have been doctored.

Gongadze, who was 31 when he was killed, was a tireless reporter and a harsh critic of Kuchma's rule who founded an online newspaper that exposed corruption by senior government officials.

On Sept. 16, 2000, Gongadze got into what he thought was a taxi, and was then joined by three others and driven outside Kiev.

He was beaten and strangled, his body doused with gasoline and burned.

Gongadze's beheaded body was discovered in a forest outside Kiev several months later. Experts believe Gongadze was decapitated after his death.

Three former police officers were convicted of involvement in Gongadze's killing and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 2008 and another top law enforcement officer, former Interior Ministry general Olexiy Pukach, is currently on trial.

Pukach has confessed to killing Gongadze, but claimed he did so to prevent a coup d'etat that Gongadze was allegedly preparing with his colleagues.

During his closed-door trial Pukach claimed that he killed Gongadze at the behest of Kuchma and other senior government officials. Kuchma's lawyers dismissed the accusations as an attempt by Pukach, who faces a lifetime in prison, to deflect blame from himself.
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