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Ingush Opposition Mobilises

Nazran’s first rally against the president is broken up by police amid claims of brutality.
By Malika Suleimanova

The opposition in the North Caucasian republic of Ingushetia has for the first time publicly called for the resignation of President Murat Zyazikov - but has yet to win popular support for its demands.


On April 30, members of several political parties opposed to Zyazikov tried to hold a protest rally in the centre of Ingushetia’s main town, Nazran. The protest was spearheaded by local parliamentary deputy Musa Ozdoyev, who heads the regional branch of the small People’s Party of Russia.


However, Ozdoyev was unable to assemble more than 50 demonstrators next to Nazran’s Freedom Square. The protesters were not allowed to hold their rally and their leaders, including Ozdoyev, were arrested for “organising riots” and held in the interior ministry’s detention cells.


When he was freed several days later, Ozdoyev declared that he intended to continue his fight against the government, saying, “Now we know what our authorities are capable of.”


He also told Ekho Moskvy radio station that he had witnessed fellow-inmates being tortured while he was in detention, claiming that a prisoner in the next cell had had his kneecaps broken by his jailers.


Ingushetia’s interior ministry rejected Ozdoyev’s allegations, saying in a May 6 statement that they had not used “illegal methods” against detainees - but adding that the police “reserved the right to react with legal methods” to the protestors’ actions.


The small demonstration was the first open show of opposition to the Ingushetian president, a former general with the FSB intelligence service, since he was elected in 2002 with the support of the Kremlin.


Supporters of former leader Ruslan Aushev, who was more independent of Moscow, mostly left the republic following Zyazikov’s election.


The first protest rally was held in March of this year, with opposition forces demanding the return of the Prigorodny region, which once belonged to Ingushetia but has been part of neighbouring North Ossetia since the Stalinist deportations of the Ingush in 1944.


Ozdoyev, a 41-year old businessman who used to work as an aide to Zyazikov but went into opposition after the Russian parliamentary elections of 2003, has criticised Zyazikov for taking a soft line in the Prigorodny region dispute. He has also accused the president’s administration of human rights abuses and economic incompetence.


Ozdoyev appears to have some support in Moscow and has the public backing of Gennady Gudkov, parliamentary deputy and leader of the People’s Party. However, he appears to have only limited support at home.


While Zyazikov’s standing was damaged by the events of June last year - when militant rebels attacked Nazran and killed more than 90 people, and by the way he disappeared from view during last September’s extremist act on Beslan - he still has backing of the ordinary people. This is largely because of the improved economic situation in Ingushetia since he was elected, while Ozdoyev remains an unknown quantity.


“Ozdoyev’s demands may be just, but they aren’t very convincing,” said Magomed Albogachiev, a 33-year-old resident.


“He creates the impression on me personally of being a man who wants to make a name for himself. He has no consistency in his actions and demands and that makes me think the main aim of this man is to discredit the current regime, so as to strip Zyazikov of support ahead of the 2006 elections.”


The president has benefited to a large degree from the economic resources that Moscow has funnelled into Ingushetia - one of Russia’s poorest regions - over the past three years. This has resulted in compensation payments for those who suffered in the floods of 2002, as well as extra cash for the security forces and the poor.


“Last month I was given 10,000 roubles [around 360 US dollars] from Zyazikov’s fund as a person of low-income,” said Radimkhan Yevloyeva, a 45-year-old mother of eight.


To date, the authorities’ biggest problem has been a rise in violence and Islamic militancy in Ingushetia. Many militants have been arrested or killed, which may explain why their remaining allies preferred to stay away from Ozdoyev’s rally.


But Tamerlan Akiev, a local analyst and monitor with the human rights organisation Memorial, said that the authorities’ heavy-handed suppression of the new opposition movement was a big mistake.


“We shouldn’t forget that the regional branch of the People’s Party is a real political movement with its own electorate, which gave the party a certain percentage of the vote in the recent parliamentary elections in Ingushetia,” said Akiev.


“And it’s obvious that any attempt to abuse the rights of a deputy will be regarded by his electors as a personal insult.


“The current opposition, headed by Ozdoyev, does not have much support among the public and is not dangerous to the authorities but if they carry on like this, then it’s quite possible that Zyazikov’s opponents will win sympathy with ordinary people.


“In these cases the principle of ‘they’re being beaten, that means they’re telling the truth’ starts to work.”


Alikhan Markhiev, a 29-year-old resident of the town of Malgobek is worried that the political standoff could play into the hands of the radical armed opposition.


“In this situation it seems to me a very risky strategy to suppress the opposition and ignore their demands,” he said.


Malika Suleimanova is a correspondent with the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) news service, http://kavkaz.memo.ru/


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