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Police Forcibly End Opposition Protest In Ingushetia

Prague, 30 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Police and army troops used force on 30 April to disperse a protest in Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia, and detain its organizers. Officials had earlier warned the protest organizers, including Ingushetian Parliament Deputy Musa Ozdoev, against holding the demonstration.

The objective of the protest was to call for the resignation of Ingushetia's president, Murat Zyazikov. The opposition has repeatedly criticized Zyazikov, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) general who was elected president three years ago, for corruption and incompetence in economic affairs.

The opposition began planning in early April to stage simultaneous protests in several towns after police thwarted a demonstration in late March to protest crime, corruption, and appalling soci-economic conditions and to demand the return to Ingushetia of the Prigorodnyi Raion of neighboring North Ossetia, which was part of the pre-World War II Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

The protests were first scheduled for 28 April, and then postponed until 30 April. Earlier this week, the Nazran municipal authorities warned Ozdoev that he had failed to comply with the legal requirements when informing them of the planned protest. Ingushetian acting Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoev wrote to Ozdoev on 26 April recommending that he call off the protests lest "illegal armed formations" stage terrorist attacks against the participants. Khamkhoev warned that if that happened, Ozdoev would be held responsible for any casualties.

The Ingushetian authorities then began circulating false fliers calling on the population to congregate on the central square in Nazran at the precise time Ozdoev's meeting was to take place. But while Ozdoev insisted that the meeting was to be nonviolent and that participants would protest the socio-economic situation and call for Zyazikov's resignation, the counterfeit fliers said in addition to calling for a crackdown on corruption in Ingushetia and for the creation of jobs for unemployed young people, participants would call for the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. The counterfeit fliers further said demonstrators would seek to oust the republic's leaders by force if the latter rejected their demands.

Several prominent Muslim clergymen visited Ozdoev's home late on 29 April but failed to persuade him to call off the protest. Also on 29 April, armored vehicles blocked all approaches to the town of Magas, where the opposition Youth Movement of Ingushetia (MDI) planned to hold a parallel peaceful demonstration. MDI leader Rustam Archakov announced early on 30 April that the movement had decided the previous evening to postpone the Magas protest indefinitely.

In Nazran, armored vehicles were deployed near the train station early on 30 April and up to 1,000 police and troops blocked off the main square where Ozdoev's demonstration was to take place. Roadblocks were set up on all highways leading to Nazran and numerous buses transporting would-be participants to the protest were halted and turned back. An unspecified number of people nonetheless managed to congregate at 11 a.m. near the main square, but shortly after Ozdoev began to address the meeting, masked men attacked the participants with clubs and dispersed them. Ozdoev was taken by force to the local Interior Ministry headquarters, but he later told the website by telephone that "the campaign against corruption and embezzlement will continue. We shall continue to insist that President Zyazikov resigns" and that the Russian Prosecutor General's Office begins investigating his "crimes." Ozdoev stressed that the opposition will continue to act within the framework of the law and the constitution.

Meanwhile Gennadii Gudkov, chairman of the People's Party of Russia (of which Ozdoev heads the Ingushetian branch), told RIA Novosti that the Nazran demonstration was convened in full compliance with relevant legislation. He added that police acted illegally in detaining Ozdoev, who as a parliament deputy enjoys immunity from arrest.

The website quoted an unnamed police official as saying that a member of Zyazikov's administration telephoned the Interior Ministry "in hysterics," insisting that the police should not on any account release Ozdoev
lest the demonstration resume.