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Thousands in southern Russia demand leader’s ouster over land deal

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Several thousand protesters in Russia's volatile region of Ingushetia demanded Sunday the resignation of a veteran leader, accusing him of surrendering swathes of territory to neighbouring Chechnya.

Activists and clerics in Magas -- the capital of the majority-Muslim Northern Caucasus region of Ingushetia -- called for people to take to the streets after local leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov agreed a border deal with Chechnya late last month.

The protesters say the pact is detrimental to tightly-populated Ingushetia as it surrenders territory to much larger Chechnya run by Ramzan Kadyrov, a hugely controversial former rebel backed by the Kremlin.

A majority of Ingushetia's population is Muslim
A majority of Ingushetia's population is Muslim
Vasily MAXIMOV, AFP

Tens of thousands have taken part in protests in Magas since Thursday when a regional assembly endorsed the land deal.

"We are outraged today because the heads of the two regions decided to swap lands without asking people," Khamid Azhigov, a 78-year-old pensioner, told AFP.

He said that Yevkurov, who has run Ingushetia for the past decade, should be held criminally responsible for violating the constitution and betraying his people.

"He should be in prison. We will demand that today and in the future," said Azhigov, wearing a traditional sheepskin hat.

The roots of the territorial conflict stem from the early days of the Soviet Union when borders between various Northern Caucasus territories were redrawn.

Protesters have set up a makeshift camp near the regional parliament building where many eat  rest a...
Protesters have set up a makeshift camp near the regional parliament building where many eat, rest and pray in the presence of riot police
Vasily MAXIMOV, AFP

Ruslan Aushev, the region's first post-Soviet leader, addressed the crowd, saying Yevkurov should have consulted his people before committing to the deal.

"The leadership of Ingushetia has made a grave mistake," Aushev said.

Regional authorities claim that the local legislative assembly have endorsed the land swap but activists say the results of the vote were falsified.

In a sign of huge tensions on the day of the vote, Yevkurov was reportedly pelted with plastic bottles and his guards were forced to fire automatic rifles into the air to hold back the crowd.

Activists launched indefinite protests from Thursday demanding authorities annul the deal and parliament hold a new vote.

They set up a makeshift camp near the regional parliament building where many eat, rest and pray in the presence of riot police.

The roots of the territorial conflict stem from the early days of the Soviet Union when borders betw...
The roots of the territorial conflict stem from the early days of the Soviet Union when borders between various Northern Caucasus territories were redrawn
Vasily MAXIMOV, AFP

Russia's Northern Caucasus struggles with a litany of problems including a simmering Islamist insurgency, deep poverty and entrenched corruption and presents one of the biggest challenges for the Kremlin.

The people of Ingushetia and Chechnya are ethnically close. During World War II, Stalin accused the Chechens and Ingush of collaborating with the Nazi and deported them to Central Asia. The exiles were later allowed to return.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian troops fought two separatist wars in Chechnya, while Ingushetia chose to become a Russian republic.

Several thousand protesters in Russia’s volatile region of Ingushetia demanded Sunday the resignation of a veteran leader, accusing him of surrendering swathes of territory to neighbouring Chechnya.

Activists and clerics in Magas — the capital of the majority-Muslim Northern Caucasus region of Ingushetia — called for people to take to the streets after local leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov agreed a border deal with Chechnya late last month.

The protesters say the pact is detrimental to tightly-populated Ingushetia as it surrenders territory to much larger Chechnya run by Ramzan Kadyrov, a hugely controversial former rebel backed by the Kremlin.

A majority of Ingushetia's population is Muslim

A majority of Ingushetia's population is Muslim
Vasily MAXIMOV, AFP

Tens of thousands have taken part in protests in Magas since Thursday when a regional assembly endorsed the land deal.

“We are outraged today because the heads of the two regions decided to swap lands without asking people,” Khamid Azhigov, a 78-year-old pensioner, told AFP.

He said that Yevkurov, who has run Ingushetia for the past decade, should be held criminally responsible for violating the constitution and betraying his people.

“He should be in prison. We will demand that today and in the future,” said Azhigov, wearing a traditional sheepskin hat.

The roots of the territorial conflict stem from the early days of the Soviet Union when borders between various Northern Caucasus territories were redrawn.

Protesters have set up a makeshift camp near the regional parliament building where many eat  rest a...

Protesters have set up a makeshift camp near the regional parliament building where many eat, rest and pray in the presence of riot police
Vasily MAXIMOV, AFP

Ruslan Aushev, the region’s first post-Soviet leader, addressed the crowd, saying Yevkurov should have consulted his people before committing to the deal.

“The leadership of Ingushetia has made a grave mistake,” Aushev said.

Regional authorities claim that the local legislative assembly have endorsed the land swap but activists say the results of the vote were falsified.

In a sign of huge tensions on the day of the vote, Yevkurov was reportedly pelted with plastic bottles and his guards were forced to fire automatic rifles into the air to hold back the crowd.

Activists launched indefinite protests from Thursday demanding authorities annul the deal and parliament hold a new vote.

They set up a makeshift camp near the regional parliament building where many eat, rest and pray in the presence of riot police.

The roots of the territorial conflict stem from the early days of the Soviet Union when borders betw...

The roots of the territorial conflict stem from the early days of the Soviet Union when borders between various Northern Caucasus territories were redrawn
Vasily MAXIMOV, AFP

Russia’s Northern Caucasus struggles with a litany of problems including a simmering Islamist insurgency, deep poverty and entrenched corruption and presents one of the biggest challenges for the Kremlin.

The people of Ingushetia and Chechnya are ethnically close. During World War II, Stalin accused the Chechens and Ingush of collaborating with the Nazi and deported them to Central Asia. The exiles were later allowed to return.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian troops fought two separatist wars in Chechnya, while Ingushetia chose to become a Russian republic.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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