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Restive Russian Region Protests Kremlin Appointment

Daghestani President Mukhu Aliyev
MAKHACHKALA, Russia (Reuters) -- Hundreds of people surrounded a government building in Russia's turbulent Daghestan region to demand the removal of a Moscow-appointed tax chief, in a challenge to tight Kremlin rule.

Analysts say Moscow's fragile control over mainly Muslim regions in the south of Russia, including Daghestan, could be undermined by a sharp economic downturn which threatens generous subsidies handed out by the Kremlin.

Daghestan and the nearby regions of Chechnya and Ingushetia have a history of rebelling against Moscow's rule. Russian forces have been fighting an insurgency, partly linked to militant Islam, for the past 15 years.

An estimated 500 people surrounded the headquarters of the Federal Tax Service in Daghestan's capital, Makhachkala, and prevented its newly appointed head, Vladimir Radchenko, from reaching his office.

The protest followed local media reports that Daghestan's president was unhappy with Moscow's choice of tax chief.

The "Kommersant" newspaper reported that Radchenko was kidnapped at gunpoint from his office on February 6 and told he would be killed if he remained in the region.

'Perfectly Good Candidates'

Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev has not spoken out against Radchenko's appointment, but a pro-administration newspaper has called for his replacement and several protesters said they were taking part to support the president.

"We do not understand why the federal center is appointing our leaders," said protester Ramidin Makhmudov. "We have our own perfectly good candidates and Mukhu Aliyev could himself have appointed a tax chief."

Local law enforcement agencies made no apparent attempt to stop the protest.

"The appointment...of the 'enemy' Radchenko to the post of head of the local Federal Tax Service is one of a series of actions...on the federal level to weaken the heads of the regions," the pro-Aliyev "Chernovik" newspaper wrote on February 6.

"The Federal Tax Service plays a key role in the politics of Mukhu Aliyev," the newspaper wrote.

Aliyev was appointed by the Kremlin in 2006 in a bid to bring stability to a region plagued by bombings and assassinations. He has publicly declared loyalty to Moscow.

Roughly the size of Scotland, Daghestan is a cauldron of ethnic groups and powerful clans which operate their own private armies and reach into politics, organized crime, and militant Islamist groups.

Bomb attacks on security forces and gangland killings of local officials are a regular occurrence.