Journalist Honoured By Yushchenko

Journalist Georgiy Gongadze, whose murder in 2000 jolted the administration of Ukraine's former President Leonid Kuchma, was posthumously awarded the country's highest honour on Wednesday.

The headless corpse of Gongadze, 31, was found in a wood a month and a half after he disappeared in central Kiev. Three senior policemen have been arrested in connection with an investigation still under way.

"I have signed a decree presenting the Hero of Ukraine award (posthumous) to Georgiy Gongadze," said President Viktor Yushchenko, who won last December's election on a wave of protests against Kuchma.

"He gave his young life for our freedom and independence," he told an awards ceremony.

The award, citing Gongadze's courage and journalistic activity, coincided with celebrations marking the 14th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from Soviet rule.

Yushchenko has accused Kuchma's administration of covering up for the perpetrators of the murder, Ukraine's most celebrated post-Communist crime.

Gongadze's death marked a turning point in Kuchma's scandal-plagued 10-year term in office and became a rallying point in last year's "Orange Revolution", which led to the re-run of a rigged presidential poll and to Yushchenko's victory.

Kuchma, who has been questioned by investigators about the murder, was linked to the death by recordings of conversations which a former bodyguard said he made in his office.

Voices similar to his and that of Yuri Kravchenko, interior minister at the time, are heard discussing how to "deal with" Gongadze. The tapes have never been admitted as evidence and Kuchma has denied all involvement in the crime.

Kravchenko was found shot dead in March, hours before he was to testify. Police said he committed suicide.


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