Police in Russia's Ingushetia region have detained several protesters demonstrating against what they say is the unfair handover of parts of Ingushetia to neighboring Chechnya under a controversial deal establishing the border between the two North Caucasus republics.
Truncheon-wielding police began detaining demonstrators after a crowd of more than 100 gathered on the outskirts of the regional capital, Magas, ahead of the signing of the border deal on September 26, eyewitnesses said.
The protest came amid growing tension over preparations for an agreement aimed to set out a firm border between the two regions, which were part of a single republic in the Soviet era but were split in two following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.
Law enforcement authorities established tight security and restricted access to Magas, where Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the heads of other nearby regions were meeting along with President Vladimir Putin's representative in the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Matovnikov.
Residents of Magas and other parts of Ingushetia said there were severe outages in cellular-phone service that they suspected were part of an effort by the state to suppress unsanctioned protests.
The Interior Ministry branch in Ingushetia said that it was conducting "a complex of measures aimed at maintaining public order and proving public safety" across the small republic.
It warned that people attempting to hold public gatherings without permission from the authorities would be prevented from doing so, but did not say how many people had been detained.
Russian news agencies later reported that Kadyrov and the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, signed a border agreement that says it includes what state-run TASS called an "equal exchange of uninhabited land" in the Nadterechny district of Ingushetia and the Malgobek district of Chechnya.
Ingush opponents of the deal, including the protesters, have contended that Ingush land is being unjustly handed over to Chechnya, whose strongman leader Kadyrov wields powerful influence and has been accused in the past of interfering in the affairs of neighboring Ingushetia and Daghestan. Activists also claim that Chechens have been illegally building a road in a protected part of Ingushetia's Sunzha district.
Ingushetia's prime minister, Zyalimkhan Yevloyev, called for calm and said that "establishing firm and fair administrative borders" was a priority for Ingushetia despite the difficulties it entails.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin's administration was aware that "there are some internal tensions" in the region, and that Putin was being kept informed about the "unfolding events."
Chechnya is the site of two devastating post-Soviet separatist wars from 1994 to 2001 and the epicenter of an Islamist insurgency that spread across much of the North Caucasus, igniting violence in Ingushetia and other mostly Muslim republics in the region.