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Russia: Security Forces Violently Disperse Protest In Ingushetia

The offices of the state-owned 'Serdalo' newspaper were set on fire following the demonstration (AFP) Police have clashed with hundreds of protesters rallying against corruption and human rights abuses in Russia's southern Republic of Ingushetia.

One demonstrator was reported wounded in the violence, while others were detained, including journalists and human rights activists.

RFE/RL's Russian Service reported that the violence began after about 1,000 demonstrators tried to gather in a central square in Ingushetia's capital, Nazran, but heavily armed riot police blocked streets leading to the square.

Protesters then began throwing rocks and incendiary devices at the police, who fired shots into the air before moving into the crowd. Police and paramilitary forces then chased protesters through the center of Nazran.

RFE/RL's Danila Galperovich, who was on the scene, said that "local police special forces were attacked by demonstrators with stones and Molotov cocktails. Special forces responded with heavy force, using tear gas and hand guns."

Later, he and other journalists with independent media, as well human rights activists, were detained by police. The others detained included "Novaya gazeta" correspondent Olga Bobrova, Ekho Moskvy radio correspondents Vladimir Varfolomeyev and Roman Plusov, and two activists from the Russian human rights group Memorial, Yekaterina Sokiriaskaya and Timur Akiyev.

"After the clashes ended, I was trying to clear up how many casualties there were on both sides," Galperovich said. "When I introduced myself to the police officers, they, without any comment, took away all my belongings and detained me for two hours at the local police department. Then when the republican and Nazran prosecutors appeared on the scene, all my personal belongings were returned to me. And I'm still in the local police department, waiting to be freed."

Reports say smoke and flames poured from the offices of the state newspaper "Serdalo" and from Ingushetia's main hotel. It was not clear who set the facilities on fire or why.

Protesting Police Crackdown, Abuses

The demonstrators carried placards calling for the resignation of Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Organizers say they informed the authorities of their plan to hold the rally and that it was intended to protest corruption and the abductions, beatings, arrests, and killings of suspects by government forces and local allied paramilitaries.

On January 25 Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) launched a large-scale security operation in Ingushetia in response to a surge in violence and abductions in the republic -- mostly against police.

Nazran and other parts of the republic were declared "counterterrorism zones," giving emergency powers to the security forces.

On November 24, 2007, police in Nazran used force to disperse hundreds of people taking part in a protest similar to today's gathering. Reports said 100 protesters were detained at that time.

The mostly Muslim republic of fewer than 500,000 people shares the religion, language, and culture of neighboring Chechnya. Its population includes a large number of refugees from Chechnya, where Russia has fought two wars against separatist rebels over the last 15 years.

Federal officials last year tripled the number of law enforcement troops in Ingushetia in an effort to tighten the authorities' control there.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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