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Medvedev Turns To Muslim Clerics To Counter Radicals

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with Ingushetia's leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov in Sochi on August 28.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with Ingushetia's leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov in Sochi on August 28.

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) -- President Dmitry Medvedev has urged Russia's top Muslim clerics to join forces to stop radical Islamist groups wooing young people in the turbulent North Caucasus.

He proposed a Muslim television channel and controls on access to Islamic education abroad as ways of tackling Islamist insurgency in the region.

"Unfortunately, criminal gangs still manage to recruit young people for their activities," Medvedev told clerics and regional leaders at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"It would be right to work out a program of working with the young in the North Caucasus," he added.

Earlier this year, the Kremlin ended security restrictions in the region in a gesture intended to show a return of stability to the province now run by a pro-Moscow government.

A wave of suicide bomb attacks and armed assaults on police and security forces in Chechnya and next-door Ingushetia and Daghestan has marked the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Russia's North Caucasus.

As well as the immediate threat of destabilization in the entire North Caucasus, the Kremlin is worried radical Islamism may spread across other Muslim regions.

The teachings of radical Islamic insurgents, who challenge traditional Muslim clerics loyal to Moscow, are increasingly popular in the Northern Caucasus, where people face poverty, corruption, and widespread abuse of power by officials.

Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who was seriously wounded in a suicide bomb attack in June, said military pressure on rebels was no answer.

"We need to rebuild the system of public values," he said.

Medvedev backed the idea of confronting radical Islamist propaganda but he indicated the options were limited.

"We cannot force people to give up Internet or close these sites," he said, proposing such alternatives as a television channel to promote mainstream Islam.

"We need to think about finding a channel which would offer teaching and comprehensive explanation of Islam that is traditional for our country," he said without elaborating.

Medvedev also proposed stronger control over young people returning to Russia after studying Islam abroad. Mainstream clerics say many Islamic schools in Arab countries spread radical teachings.

"There indeed must be control," Medvedev said. "Unfortunately these people are returning...[and] bring back unorthodox views on Islam," he said.

"We should work out some kind of order," he added. "I think, there should be certain frameworks."