Thousands of people in Russia's Ingushetia region have protested against a controversial border deal with neighboring Chechnya, denouncing land swaps under the agreement and calling for Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov to step down.
Police kept a close watch on the hours-long March 26 rally in Magas, the regional capital, which was held with the permission of the authorities.
Large protests were held in Ingushetia after Yevkurov and the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, signed the deal behind closed doors in September.
The new rally increased pressure on Yevkurov over the border deal.
In an apparent bid to appease Ingush who oppose the agreement, Yevkurov on March 20 withdrew proposed legislation that would cancel the need to hold referendums on any proposed changes of the regional border.
Yevkurov said he withdrew the bill after tribal councils, elders, and some lawmakers urged him to send it back for changes.
Yevkurov and Kadyrov said the agreement was approved by the parliaments of both republics several days later, despite demonstrations by protesters in Ingushetia who say it unfairly hands parts of the republic to Chechnya, its larger neighbor to the east.
The protesters have called for Yevkurov's resignation and a public referendum on the deal.
On October 30, 2018, Ingushetia's Constitutional Court ruled that the agreement was illegal because "it changes the territory of the Republic of Ingushetia," something it said requires approval by referendum. http://ks-ri.ru/?p=3350
But Yevkurov took the issue to the Federal Constitutional Court in Moscow with a request for support of the agreement, which the court did in December.
The issue has raised concerns about the possibility of a regional conflict in Russia, which is home to a large number of ethnic groups.
It also has amplified concerns about the power and influence of the Kremlin-backed Kadyrov, who was appointed by President Vladimir Putin in 2007 to head Chechnya.
Kadyrov has publicly threatened the protesters in Ingushetia.
In late October, Kadyrov visited Ingushetia with a large entourage of armed men to confront a protest leader. The meeting ended without violence.
Ingushetia and Chechnya were parts of a single administrative region during the Soviet era, but they split after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
There are strong concerns about the loss of territory in Ingushetia, which lost control of the disputed Prigorodny district to another neighbor, North Ossetia, after a conflict in 1992 that killed some 600 people, mostly Ingush.
Rights activists say Kadyrov rules through repressive measures and has created a climate of impunity for security forces in the North Caucasus.
Kremlin critics contend that Putin has given Kadyrov free rein because he relies on him to rein in separatists and militants after two wars in Chechnya.