BORIS Nemsov, one of Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics, has been shot dead on a street in Moscow, according to Russian media.
He was shot four times near the Kremlin while walking with a woman, news websites claimed, after several people got out of a car and confronted him.
Nemsov was, briefly, the Russian deputy Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsin, but recently has been a strong critic of Putin.
Among the criticisms he has made recently are about how Putin is running the economy. Nemsov, a liberal politician, took the view the economy was on the decline because of the Russian president rather than because of an American conspiracy.
Speaking a few days ago in the town of Yaroslavl, north east of Moscow, he surprised residents by blaming Putin for rising inflation and stangnant wages. "They believed that the embargo on imported foods is America's fault, and they were surprised when I told them no, that was not Obama, it was Putin," he says. "This is what we need to make people aware of: the crisis, that's Putin."
His criticisms made him a hate figure among Putin loyalists. At a recent pro-Putin rally there were posters vilifying him.
In 2011 he was jailed for 15 days after taking part in a demonstration against Putin's government.
Ilya Yashin, a colleague in the RPR-Parnassus party, was quoted by the lenta.ru news website as confirming the murder of Nemsov: "Unfortunately I can see the corpse of Boris Nemtsov in front of me now. At the Bolshoy Zamoskvoretsky Bridge. I see the body and lots of police around it."
Nemsov was co-chairman of RPR-Parnassus, winning a seat in the Russian Parliament in 2013, and also founded the liberal social movement Solidarity.
While governor of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's fourth biggest city and formerly known as Gorky, he earned a reputation as an economic reformer. He was appointed governor as a reward for supporting Yeltsin during the unsuccessful 1991 coup by communist hardliners.
Nemsov was by career a scientist but moved into politics when he successfully opposed the construction of a new nuclear plant soon after the Chenobyl disaster.
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