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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Widespread Sympathy for Kaloyev

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said Thursday that Vitaly Kaloyev, who was sentenced by a Swiss court to eight years in prison for killing an air traffic controller, deserved his punishment, but other officials and the media suggested that the court should have shown leniency.

Kaloyev lost his wife and two children when the Tu-154 jet they were flying in collided with a cargo jet over Swiss-controlled airspace in southern Germany in 2002. A German investigation later said Peter Nielsen, the sole air traffic controller who was on duty at the time of the accident, was partly to blame.

Kaloyev, a native of North Ossetia, fatally stabbed Nielsen in February 2004. He told the court during the two-day trial, which ended Wednesday, that he had not intended to kill Nielsen but had apparently stabbed him in a fit of rage.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors said they would appeal the sentence.

"I can't assess the fairness of the sentence that was given to Kaloyev, and I rely on the objectivity of Swiss justice," Gryzlov said, Interfax reported. "In any case, a murder must not be justified and left unpunished."

But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he felt sorry for Kaloyev. "It is a personal tragedy that I take close to heart," he said. He noted, however, that Russia could not intervene in the trial.

North Ossetian President Taimuraz Mamsurov, who attended the trial, expressed disappointment and called the conviction a victory for Skyguide, the Swiss air traffic company that employed Nielsen. "The case of Vitaly Kaloyev was considered separately from the tragedy that he had lived through," he said, Izvestia reported Thursday.

"Switzerland is a wonderful country. But if the country has a 'killer' company, perhaps the government should apply adequate measures to it," he said. "That has not been done so far."

Duma Deputy Alexei Mitrofanov of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party said Tuesday that as a lawmaker he disapproved of the killing "but as a man, I simply have to raise my hat to him," Interfax reported.

Also Tuesday, Deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov of United Russia blamed the ongoing investigation into the plane crashes for the killing, saying those responsible should have been identified and punished quickly.

An investigation into Skyguide led by Winterthur City prosecutors is continuing, said Andre Simonazzi, a spokesman for Switzerland's Federal Department of Transport. "The ... process is a difficult thing," he said Thursday.

In its May 2004 report, the German Office for Flight Accident Investigations blamed the accident on Nielsen, who noticed too late that the planes were on a collision course, and on a series of shortcomings at Skyguide's Zurich center.

Nielsen was on duty alone because a colleague was taking a break. In the five minutes before the crash, he was paying more attention to handling a plane landing in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the report said. Also, he had not been told that a collision warning system at Zurich was down for maintenance. A similar system alerted a controller in Karlsruhe, Germany, but he was unable to reach his colleague because the Zurich center's main phone line was down.

Komsomolskaya Pravda ran the story about the verdict under a headline that called the Swiss judges a troika -- a loaded word that brings to mind the prosecutor, judge and investigator used for the quick trials of the Stalin purges.

"Deep down we understand him," read a sub-headline in Moskovsky Komsomolets.

Kommersant's headline was a quote from Kaloyev, "Morally, I am above Skyguide all the same."