September 3, 2008 5:13 am

Tension in Ingushetia after journalist’s death

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Tension rose in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia on Tuesday after police broke up a demonstration protesting the death of a leading opposition figure shot by police in the highest profile killing of a journalist in Russia since Anna Politkovskaya.

Friends of the dead journalist, Magomed Yevloyev, who owned an influential opposition website Ingushetiya.ru, vowed to continue the protest after police used batons to break up remaining demonstrators in Nazran, the Ingush capital, early Tuesday morning. But they warned younger supporters were seeking weapons to avenge his death.

Yevloyev’s killing could further destabilise a region in the heart of the volatile North Caucasus where Russia has already tightened security in the wake of its conflict with Georgia. Ingushetia has been wracked by bombings, kidnappings and police crackdowns – events recorded by Yevloyev who, as a fierce critic of the Kremlin-backed regional governor, charged that law enforcers were behind kidnappings and murders.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Tuesday slammed his killing as an “assassination” aimed at cracking down on dissent in the region. Police said Yevloyev was shot by accident when he tried to seize an officer’s gun after he was arrested on Sunday.

Police had detained Yevloyev at the airport after he arrived in Ingushetia on Sunday travelling on the same plane as the governor, saying they tried to take him to a police station for questioning about a bombing. But friends said Yevloyev was found dead at a local hospital with a bullet through his head about twenty minutes after his detention. The government had tried to close down his website several times alleging “extremism”.

Demonstrators on Monday, who according to organizers numbered several thousand, renewed calls for the resignation of the regional governor, Murat Zyazikov, a former security services agent and Vladimir Putin ally. Mr Zyazikov called his death a “human tragedy.”

But the killing also provoked calls for Ingushetia’s independence from Russia, in a potential first sign that Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence as a result of the military conflict against Georgia could trigger a domino effect in Russia’s rebellious North Caucasus.

“As they recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, we are asking them to recognize Ingushetia’s independence,” said Magomed Khazibiyev, a personal friend of Yevloyev who organized the demonstration.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, brushed aside the calls. “I would totally disagree that would constitute a large part of the population,” he said. “There are some people trying to destabilise the situation in Ingushetia ... But they are minor groups.” He added that a full investigation would be launched into the circumstances of his death, but said he had resisted arrest.

Yulia Latynina, an independent political commentator, said the main danger in Ingushetia would not be caused by calls for independence, but by an increasing radicalisation of oppositionists in the wake of Yevloyev’s killing, who could join Chechen-led separatist groups.

“Mr Yevloyev led a legal opposition pushing for Zyazikov to step down. He was not a guy who took up arms and went into the forest and tried to fight Russia,” she said. “His death means that a lot of young people will realize that it is useless to be involved in anything that resembles a legal opposition ... And that it is much better to enter the forest.”

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