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Turbulent Russian Region Drives Out Tax Chief

MAKHACHKALA, Russia (Reuters) -- An official sent by Moscow to oversee tax collection in Russia's restive Daghestan region has said he had been forced to leave, dealing a symbolic blow to the Kremlin's fragile control in the region.

Daghestan is a mainly Muslim republic in the North Caucasus, a region along Russia's southern border with a tradition of often violent rebellions against Moscow's rule.

The Kremlin has been able to reassert its authority through a mixture of tough security measures and generous handouts, but some observers say the economic slowdown will limit its ability to keep the region under its control.

Hundreds of people took to the streets earlier this month in Daghestan's capital, Makhachkala, to protest against Moscow's decision to appoint Vladimir Radchenko as head of the regional tax service, passing over local candidates for the job. Local officials also opposed his appointment.

"I'm not in Daghestan, but I don't want to say where exactly I am," Radchenko said by telephone. He cited security concerns as his reason for not revealing his whereabouts.

Russia's "Kommersant" newspaper reported last week that Radchenko had briefly been kidnapped at gunpoint and told that if he did not leave he would be killed.

Federal forces in Dagestan, with help from local leaders, are fighting a growing Islamist insurgency which recruits from disenchanted young men, frustrated with a lack of jobs and opportunities.

Daghestan borders Chechnya, the focus of two wars between Russian federal forces and rebels since the mid-1990s. News agencies reported that three policemen were injured in a shooting in western Daghestan on February 12.