Halonen hopes journalist murder will be solved before upcoming Putin visit
President Tarja Halonen commented on Monday on the brutal murder of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, saying she was shocked and horrified at the killing and expressing the hope that Russia would soon find ways of preventing any repetition of such crimes.
Halonen also noted that she very much hoped the case would be solved and the perpetrators brought to justice before Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Finland later this month. Putin will be among the heads of state and government attending the informal EU summit in Lahti on the 20th.
Halonen was answering questions in connection with a scheduled radio appearance and for the Nelonen TV News.
She expressed hopes that Russia would take steps to ensure at least two things: "I very much hope that two things can be achieved in Russia through different means. One is respect for different opinions and the other is a strengthening of the rule of law, so that people can have a sense of safety."
Sunday night's candlelit vigil outside the Russian Embassy in Helsinki, attended by upwards of 1,000 people (some have claimed as many as 3,000 were present), gave the President an idea of what the Finnish public are thinking and talking about right now.
Before Halonen answered listeners' questions in a scheduled phone-in programme for the Finnish Broadcasting Company on Monday evening, she said she was anticipating that there would be references to the slaying of Politkovskaya.
"It is a question of something in our neighbouring country, whose events we follow closely, and personally I have taken this Finnish demonstration yesterday as a sign that we still believe in democracy under all circumstances, in the sense that when a demonstration is organised people believe it will have some effect", Halonen said to Nelonen TV News before going into the studio.
The President felt the murder was particularly shocking as an affront to freedom of expression and opinion - Politkovskaya had in the past targeted the government of President Putin as well as exposing corruption in Russia and serious human rights abuses in the conduct of the war in Chechnya.
"Taking a human life, hurting someone, is always a shocking matter. And when this apparently also involves the violation of freedom of expression it makes the crime that much more appalling", said Halonen.
President Putin made his first public comment on the journalist's slaying in a telephone conversation with his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush, confirming that "all necessary efforts will be made for an objective investigation into the tragic death" of the award-winning reporter.
Putin is in Germany today for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel. While energy matters, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the recent North Korean nuclear test are likely to dominate proceedings, it is almost certain that the Politkovskaya killing will surface in some form or other.
Her death is in any event something of an embarrassment to President Putin's efforts to project Russia as a responsible member of the G8 and a transitional market economy, and he, too, will probably be hoping the subject is not to the fore when he meets with EU colleagues for dinner at the informal Lahti summit in two weeks' time.
The slain journalist, who was shot in her apartment building on Saturday afternoon, is to be buried today in Moscow.
She was by no means the first reporter to die an unnatural death in Russia. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Russia is the third most deadly country for journalists, after Iraq and Algeria. The Committee claims Politkovskaya was at least the 43rd journalist killed for her work in the country since 1993.
Previously in HS International Edition:
More than 1,000 attend vigil for murdered Russian journalist (9.10.2006)