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Ex-officer guilty of Chechen woman murder released from prison - 2

(Adds details of family's appeal in paras 4, 10, 11, lawyer's quote in para 15)

MOSCOW, January 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service confirmed that former Russian officer Yury Budanov convicted of murdering a young Chechen woman was released from prison on Thursday.

"Budanov was released from custody two hours ago," a spokesman for the service told RIA Novosti.

Budanov, who commanded a tank regiment during the second military campaign in Chechnya, was convicted in the summer of 2003 of strangling an 18-year-old Chechen woman, Elsa Kungayeva, three years earlier and was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Kungayeva's family had appealed against Budanov's early release, but a court rejected their plea on Thursday.

The ex-officer admitted killing Kungayeva, but claimed temporary insanity, saying he had strangled her in a fit of rage because he thought she was a sniper. His conviction came after a lengthy legal process involving a controversial retrial and numerous psychiatric reports.

A court in the Volga basin's Ulyanovsk Region upheld his parole request in late December.

Budanov has been released from prison 15 months early, while prison authorities in the Ulyanovsk Region, in central Russia, said they disapproved of the move.

The decision sparked a series of rallies in Chechnya, involving students, human rights activists, members of political parties and other organizations. Demonstrators carried banners that read "The murderer must not be pardoned" and "Where is justice?"

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov slammed the court's decision saying the Budanov case "justified all war criminals" and was intolerable.

The Dimitrovgrad City Court in the Volga basin's Ulyanovsk Region dismissed on Thursday an appeal against the decision to release Budanov.

"Today the Dimitrovgrad City Court rejected the cassation appeal of the Kungayev family's lawyer," a court spokesman said, noting that the ruling entered into force on December 24.

A lawyer for the victim's family, Stanislav Markelov, had said freeing Budanov was illegal while the appeal was outstanding.

"The actions of those who signed the document and released Budanov are illegal because my complaint against the early release is still with the Dimitrovgrad City Court and I have confirmation that they received the appeal," Markelov said.

He said that the people who had allowed Budanov to leave the prison "could be taken to court."

"Budanov remains a dangerous criminal as he is still threatening the Kungayev family," Markelov added.

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