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By Amie Ferris-Rotman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's security service said on Thursday two people have been arrested for the murder of a human rights lawyer and a reporter in Moscow in January and blamed ultra-nationalists for the killings.
Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the FSB, successor to the KGB, told President Dmitry Medvedev "heavily-armed nationalists" had gunned down lawyer Stanislav Markelov and opposition reporter Anastasia Baburova in broad daylight near the Kremlin.
"I want to stress that this crime has a resounding effect on society," replied Medvedev, who has repeatedly pledged to increase openness in society and reduce lawlessness.
A Moscow court said a woman and a man, Yevgeniya Khasis and Nikita Tikhonov, were detained on suspicion over the murders and that Tikhonov later confessed to being involved.
They were led out of court with tightly wrapped, black hoods over their heads.
Markelov had fought against the early release of a former Russian tank commander imprisoned for the murder of a Chechen girl. Baburova, from the Novaya Gazeta paper, had been walking with him when the pair were killed.
In 2006, Markelov represented the mother of an anti-fascist campaigner who he said was killed by neo-Nazis.
Russian nationalists are most commonly associated with street attacks on dark-skinned migrant workers, but have also been blamed for bomb attacks in the past.
Russia has been accused of doing too little to solve a series of killings of rights activists and journalists in recent years including the 2006 killing of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who also worked at Novaya Gazeta.
Legal representatives for Khasis and Tikhonov could not be reached for comment.
The deputy chief editor of Novaya Gazeta, Sergei Sokolov, welcomed Thursday's news but said he was not in a position to judge if the right suspects were detained.
"We also don't know if they shot them or ordered it, we don't know their role," he told Reuters, echoing his previous gripe over Politkovskaya's murder.
Three years after her death, suspected accomplices were detained, but the gunman and mastermind are still at large.
Markelov's murder provoked outrage in Chechnya, where thousands of protesters demanded authorities find his killer.
The 2001 trial of Colonel Yuri Budanov, accused of the Chechen girl's murder, was the first involving a senior officer during Moscow's offensive against Chechen separatists. (Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman)

Reuters