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Ethnic Abazas Occupy Parliament In Southern Russia

29 June 2005 -- At least 200 representatives of Karachaevo-Cherkessia's Abaza minority stormed the parliament's building in that southern Russian republic to demand urgent action to save their tiny community.

The crowd demands that the republic's Abaza villages be united in a single administrative district with its own budget and educational programs that would help preserve their language. It also protests a parliament decision to transfer some 1,000 hectares of land to areas populated by the republic's dominant Karachai ethnic group.

Reports say the protesters were preventing lawmakers from leaving the parliament and police forces are surrounding the building.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy to southern Russia, Dmitrii Kozak, condemned the action of the demonstrators.

Demonstrators left a few hours later after President Mustafa Batdyev met with them and agreed to consider their demands.

There are fewer than 30,000 Abazas left in the world, most of them in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The Abazas are part of a group of Circassian peoples that also includes the Cherkess, the Kabards, and the Adygey. They are also very close to the Abkhaz.