Mayoral candidate gunned down in Russian Far East

A mayoral candidate in a town in Russia's far east was gunned down Thursday as he left his campaign headquarters in what officials denounced as a blatant political murder.

Dmitry Fotyanov's killing was the latest attack on a public figure in Russia, which recalls the chaotic and violent 1990s when contract murders were commonplace.

Fotyanov was shot in Dalnegorsk, a small town about 9,300 kilometers (5,750 miles) east of Moscow where he was running for the mayor's office. Police said attackers fired an assault rifle equipped with a silencer from a vehicle parked nearby.

Fotyanov's aide, Irina Gorobets, said on NTV television that shots were fired while Fotyanov was discussing details of a campaign event with her. "When I heard the first shot, I didn't even realize at first that it was a shot," she said.

Rossiya state television said the attackers later burned the vehicle they had fired at Fotyanov from.

Investigators were focusing on whether the gunmen had sought to keep Fotyanov from contending in a runoff mayoral election scheduled for next week, said Irina Nomokonova, an official with the Primorky Krai regional prosecutor's office.

Fotyanov was a member of the main pro-Kremlin party, the United Russia. United Russia's leader, Russian parliament speaker, Boris Gryzlov, said his murder was clearly political.

"When they kill a candidate in a mayoral elections runoff, the political murder version obviously comes first," Gryzlov said in televized remarks.

Primorsky region Gov. Sergei Darkin said that he would personally oversee the investigation, reports AP. 

Russia has seen several high-profile murders in recent weeks, including the killings in Moscow of a top Central Bank inspector and investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

While on a lesser scale than in the turbulent 1990s, contract killings still occur regularly in Russia, where business conflicts often turn violent and the government is seeking closer control over economic activity. The murders are almost never solved.

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