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Former President Charged in 2000 Murder of Ukrainian Journalist

Former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma (c) arrives at the general prosecutor's office in Kyiv, March 24, 2011

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma says he has been charged with involvement in the murder of a Ukrainian journalist in 2000, when Kuchma was near the mid-point of his term in office.

Kuchma said Thursday prosecutors presented him with the charges, but he had not read all of them. He was speaking after a second consecutive day of questioning at the prosecutor's office in the capital, Kyiv.

The Kyiv Post quotes a prosecutor's spokesperson as saying the preliminary charge against Kuchma is abuse of power in connection with the September 2000 beheading of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. The online newspaper editor was a vocal critic of Kuchma.

Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against the former president Tuesday, ruling that an audio tape that appears to incriminate him could be submitted as evidence. The prosecutors have barred Kuchma from leaving the country.

Kuchma denies any connection with the killing and says there is nothing new in the accusations against him. He is due to be questioned again by prosecutors on Monday, March 28.

Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko says he made the audio recording in Kuchma's office in 2000. On the tape, a voice resembling Kuchma's speaks of eliminating Gongadze. Melnychenko also appeared at the prosecutor's office Wednesday and said his presence scared Kuchma into cutting short the questioning session.

Kuchma's opponents have demanded for the past 10 years that he stand trial for Gongadze's killing. Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko criticized the government's surprise decision to begin investigating the former president as a shallow attempt by current President Viktor Yanukovych to prove a commitment to the rule of law.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.