Police clash with protesters in Russian region

NAZRAN, Russia – Russian riot police fired warning shots into the air and beat demonstrators who tried to rally on Saturday against alleged vote-rigging in the Muslim region of Ingushetia, a witness said.

Russia is fighting a growing insurgency in the region that borders Chechnya, where Moscow has fought two wars against separatists since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Opponents of Kremlin-backed leader Marat Zyazikov called the rally to protest against the official results of last December’s election which gave the pro-Kremlin party 99 percent of the vote.

Nazran’s central square had earlier been sealed off by police but about 30 to 40 mostly young protesters tried to break through police cordons, the witness said.

Police used batons and teargas to push back the protesters who pelted them with stones and Molotov cocktails, the witness said.

“The action by the riot police is illegal,” declared Magomed Yevloev, one of the rally’s organizers, who helped gather signatures from about one fifth of the region’s residents who said they did not vote in the election.

“The demonstration was not officially banned by authorities,” he told Reuters by telephone. He said one demonstrator had been wounded by gunfire and treated in a hospital.

Police detained most of the activists but some set fire to the office of a government-owned newspaper.

A freelance photographer at the scene told Reuters by telephone that he was beaten by police and detained. Moscow’s Ekho Moskvy radio station said two of its reporters were detained by the police in Nazran.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) on Friday declared parts of Ingushetia a “counter-terrorist operation zone”, giving the authorities the right to ban rallies and restrict travel.

“There was an attempt to hold a rally,” a local FSB spokesman said by telephone from Nazran. “The situation is now under control.”

Yevloev dismissed the counter-terrorist operation as a pretext to block the rally. He said about 3,000 protesters gathered at Nazran’s bus station planned to march to Zyazikov’s residence.

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