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Moscow murder probe annulled

Rybkin has publicly and aggressively criticized President Putin.
Rybkin has publicly and aggressively criticized President Putin.

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Moscow (Russia)
Vladimir V. Putin
Boris Berezovsky
Crime, Law and Justice

MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Russia's prosecutor general on Monday cancelled a murder inquiry into the disappearance of presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin less than an hour after it had been opened.

Asked about a report that the national prosecutor general's office had overturned the formal opening of an inquiry into premeditated murder, a spokeswoman said: "Yes. That's right. The case has been cancelled."The Moscow prosecutor's office earlier in the day opened a murder case after Rybkin had gone missing since last Thursday.

Rybkin, 57, is a political rival of President Vladimir Putin who is challenging him in the March 14 election.

Media speculation over the case varied wildly on Monday with theories ranging from a political kidnapping to Rybkin possibly staging his own disappearance to boost a doomed campaign.

"At the present time, the police, together with the prosecutor general's office, are carrying out checks linked with a statement about the disappearance of Ivan Rybkin," the spokeswoman said.

"There are for the moment no grounds for opening a criminal case, especially not for the clause covering 'premeditated murder'," she added.

It was not immediately clear if the new announcement by the prosecutor general's office indicated justice officials were on the verge of reporting a significant development in the case.

A former speaker of the parliament lower house, Rybkin is a pro-market centre-left politician who has the backing of exiled business magnate and fierce critic of Putin, Boris Berezovsky.

Like the five other candidates in the presidential race, he has little chance of unseating Putin who has an approval rating of 70 percent or more in opinion polls and seems certain to win easily a second term in the Kremlin.

Rybkin's wife was quoted in a newspaper on Monday as saying she believed her husband had been kidnapped.

She officially reported him missing on Sunday and police have brought in FSB state security officials to help in the search.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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