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Two Detained in Nemtsov Murder Probe

Mourners following the Russian tradition of memorializing a person nine days after a death lay flowers and votive candles at the place where Boris Nemtsov was gunned down near the Kremlin, in Moscow, on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Russia has detained two suspects in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the head of Russia's federal security service told state television Saturday.

Alexander Bortnikov said the two men, Anzor Gubashev and Zaur Dadayev, both from Russia's troubled North Caucasus region, are suspected of carrying out the crime. It was not clear whether either of them was accused of firing the shots.

The February 27 killing of such a high-profile government critic in an area near the Kremlin shocked the country. Members of the opposition have pointed blame at the government, with suspicions high that Nemtsov's murder was ordered as retaliation for his fierce criticism of President Vladimir Putin.

One of Nemtsov's closest allies in the opposition, Ilya Yashin, expressed his skepticism on Facebook after the arrests were announced, saying it is "hard to judge" whether these are the real perpetrators. He said it is extremely important that in addition to the shooters, those who ordered the killing are also identified and detained.

The Kremlin has denied involvement in Nemtsov's murder. President Putin labeled the killing "a provocation" and vowed the government would do everything to ensure those responsible are "properly punished."

Nemtsov was shot four times in the back as he and a female companion, reportedly his girlfriend, crossed a bridge over the Moscow River. His death came just days before he was to have led an anti-war and anti-Putin rally in Moscow. The 55-year-old opposition figure had also been working on a report about Russian military involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

After his death, the planned rally was transformed into a tribute to Nemtsov.

A few weeks before the shooting, Nemtsov told the Russian news website Sobesednik he thought Mr. Putin wanted him dead, and did not hold back his contempt for the Russian leader.

"I'm afraid Putin will kill me. I believe that he was the one who unleashed the war in Ukraine. I couldn't dislike him more," Nemtsov said.

Nemtsov was a deputy prime minister in the 1990s, and many Russian observers predicted he would succeed then-President Boris Yeltsin.

After President Yeltsin chose Vladimir Putin as his successor, and Putin was subsequently elected in 2000, Nemtsov became one of Russia's sharpest and most outspoken Putin critics, especially following last year's uprising in Ukraine.

In September, Nemtsov told VOA that Mr. Putin wants revenge for Ukraine's overthrow of its pro-Russian president.

He said Mr. Putin fears that what happened in Ukraine could happen in Russia, and sees a pro-European Ukraine as a threat to his own power.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko condemned Nemtsov's murder, calling him a "bridge" between Ukraine and Russia.

Western leaders also reacted strongly to his death, with French President Francois Hollande calling the shooting a "hateful murder" and U.S. President Barack Obama calling on Russia to carry out a prompt and impartial investigation.

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