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article imageRare protest against Russian North Caucasus land deal

By AFP     Oct 4, 2018 in World

Thousands attended a rare protest Thursday in Russia's North Caucasus region of Ingushetia to decry a land-swap deal with neighbouring Chechnya, despite authorities reportedly setting up roadblocks to hinder demonstrators.

The protest came after the leaders of the majority-Muslim regions of Ingushetia and Chechnya last week agreed on the exact contours of the land boundary between them.

That sparked fury in Ingushetia, where protesters complained they were not consulted on a move they see as detrimental to their region and beneficial to Chechnya, led by strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

A crowd which activists said numbered tens of thousands gathered near the parliament building in Ingushetia's main city of Magas, demanding lawmakers throw out the deal.

Local rights groups said the agreement was reached in secret and will rob the small impoverished region of huge tracts of land.

One Ingush activist at the rally, Daud Khuchiyev, put turnout at up to 40 thousand people, while police gave the figure of two thousand -- still unusually high.

"Police have blocked all the approaches to the city," Khuchiyev said. "People have to walk about 10 kilometres (6 miles) to get here after leaving their cars."

Videos livestreamed by protesters showed crowds of people walking to the parliament building with some men riding on horseback and waving Ingush flags.

In one video, gunfire can heard as security guards of Ingush regional leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov try to hold back the crowd. Police later confirmed officers fired into the air and "nobody was harmed."

A statement on Yevkurov's official website said Ingushetia's parliament had approved the deal with a majority, but rally participants told AFP they did not believe that.

"People are against the deal with Kadyrov which was reached behind their backs," said Sarazhdin Sultygov, an activist who co-chairs rights organisation Mekhk Kkhel.

"According to our estimates, Ingushetia is giving 58,000 hectares (145,000 acres) to Chechnya, and that land includes villages with people," he said.

Officials say the swap concerns an area of less than 2,000 hectares.

The roots of the conflict stem from the Soviet era, when Ingushetia and Chechnya were parts of the same region.

The demarcation between them was never officially confirmed as Chechnya went through years of separatist wars after the breakup of the Soviet Union while Ingushetia decided to stay loyal to Moscow.

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