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Hollande condemns Nemtsov assassination

Nemtsov's corpse on the bridge near St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin where he was gunned down Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

French President François Hollande on Saturday condemned the murder of Boris Nemtsov. In the first European reaction he called the Russian opposition leader a “defender of democracy”.

The 55-year-old former Russian deputy prime minister was gunned down in central Moscow late on Friday evening.

In a statement, Hollande called the shooting a “hateful murder”, describing Nemtsov as “"a courageous and tireless defender of democracy who was committed to the fight against corruption".

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko later slammed the killing, describing Nemtsov as a “friend” and a “bridge between Ukraine and Russia”.

Just hours before his assassination Nemtsov had called on Russians to join a demonstration on Sunday against Russian President “Vladimir Putin”s aggression” in Ukraine and for the immediate end of the war that has pitched pro-Russian separatists into conflict with the Kiev government.

Nemtsov was deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltson in the 1990s.

He had written a number or reports linking Putin and his allies to corruption and earlier this month said he was scared Putin would have him assassinated in an interview earlier this month.

Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, announced the Russian president would take “personal control” of the investigation.

“Putin noted that this cruel killing has all the signs of a hit and is a pure provocation,” he said.