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Bashkir Nationalists' Hunger Strike Swells To 150 People

Zarina Tukhvatullina is one of the Bashkir hunger strikers.

Zarina Tukhvatullina is one of the Bashkir hunger strikers.

UFA, Russia -- The number of hunger strikers protesting what they say is police pressure on Bashkir nationalists in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan has risen to 150, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.

The activists on a hunger strike are members of the Bashkir Youth Union (BYI). They began the strike on March 3, with four people.

They are protesting reprisals by the Federal Security Service against a small group of Bashkir nationalists who tried at the end of February to elect their own candidate to head the semi-official pan-Bashkir Congress (Kurultai). Two activists have been in police detention for several days.

The nationalists accuse congress Chairman Ilgiz Sultanmuratov of betraying the Bashkir national agenda and collaborating with Bashkortostan's new pro-Moscow president, Rustam Khamitov.

The activists wanted to replace Sultanmuratov, and a confidence vote in his leadership was held on February 26 in Ufa by the congress's executive committee. Sultanmuratov was approved by 20 of the committee's 36 members to remain chairman.

Under the previous president, Murtaza Rakhimov, Bashkir nationalists enjoyed privileges that ended when he prematurely stepped down last year. Since then, several prominent officials and some Bashkir youth union members, including founding member Artur Idelbayev, have been accused of fraud and other criminal offenses.

Idelbayev was to have been nominated as the new Bashkir Congress president but was detained in connection with a criminal investigation on February 24, two days before the start of the congress.

Another prominent BYI activist, Ayrat Dilmukhametov, was detained in Ufa on March 1. Both Idelbayev and Dilmukhametov are still in detention.

Fanzil Akhmetshin, the deputy chairman of the pan-Bashkir Congress and leader of its youth wing, told RFE/RL the hunger strikers will end their action as soon as Idelbayev and Dilmukhametov are released.

He said the hunger strikers have submitted written demands to Bashkortostan's Interior Ministry.

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