MUNICH - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday he is confident that the killer of a prominent human rights activist will be found and punished, while Germany's leader voiced dismay at the slaying and prodded Moscow to ensure it is investigated.

Medvedev visited Germany for regular talks between the two governments, a day after the execution-style shooting of Natalya Estemirova, a daring investigator of rights abuses in Russia's troubled North Caucasus.

Medvedev has reacted quickly to the murder, in contrast to other recent killings, promptly offering his condolences and pushing for an investigation.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel, Medvedev renewed a pledge that the killing will be investigated thoroughly.

"I am sure the killer will be found," he said. "I am sure the person who committed it will be punished."

Medvedev said it was "completely obvious that the killing is connected to her professional activities."

"Her professional activities are something that is needed for any normal state," he added. "She did very important things. She spoke the truth, she openly, even maybe harshly, assessed processes going on in the country - and this is valuable, even if it is unpleasant to authorities."

The murder of Estemirova, whose body was found late Wednesday with bullet holes in her head on a road in Ingushetia, a region west of Chechnya, appeared to confirm that Russia remains a place where political murders are committed without fear of reprisal.

Merkel said she expressed her "dismay at the killing of this courageous woman."

She said she had taken note of the fact that Medvedev "has made clear everything will be done to clear up this murder, because it is an unacceptable event."

The killing "must not remain unexplained, and I believe the Russian side will do everything to arrest the perpetrators and give them their just punishment," Merkel added.

Otherwise, Thursday's meeting focused in large part on trade ties between Russia and Germany, Europe's biggest economy.

State-controlled Russian lender Sberbank, in a consortium with Canadian auto parts maker Magna International Inc., is currently in talks to take a majority stake in General Motors Corp.'s German-based Opel unit.

A preliminary agreement was struck in May for the consortium to move ahead with an Opel rescue, but it remains unclear when a deal might be concluded. Magna and Sberbank face competition from investor RHJ International SA of Brussels and China's Beijing Automotive Industry Corp.

Merkel said she hoped to "clear up the open questions in the coming days" and said she expected Magna "to make its contribution to that."

Medvedev said the leaders view the project "with great interest and optimism."

Separately, Germany's state-owned KfW development bank signed loan agreements totalling $73 million with six Russian banks to help finance small and medium-sized Russian companies hit by the credit crunch.


Moulson reported from Berlin.

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