Protest Against Ingush-Chechen Land Swap Enters Third Day

People gathered in the regional capital of Ingushetia for a third straight day on October 6 to protest what they say is an unfair land swap with Chechnya under a controversial deal to establish the border between the two North Caucasus republics.

Hundreds of people remained overnight in a square in the regional capital, Magas, some sleeping in tents, according to local media.

Social media posts showed that protesters had also set up a kitchen and food area near the parliament building.

The demonstration began on October 4 when Ingush lawmakers gathered to vote on a border demarcation deal reached by Ingush and Chechen leaders last week.

The outcome of that vote was unclear. Officials said lawmakers had endorsed the deal, but at least three parliamentarians said the result had been falsified.

The deal envisages a land swap meant to end simmering territorial tensions that emerged after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Hundreds of police and security forces have been present but have not intervened against the demonstrators.

But Amnesty International on October 5 said it feared a possible police crackdown against the protesters in Magas.

'Total Lack Of Transparency'

In a statement, the London-based human rights watchdog called on authorities to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and refrain from excessive force in Ingushetia.

"So far protests have been peaceful and law enforcement have conducted themselves professionally," said Amnesty International’s Russian Researcher Oleg Kozlovsky, though he added that the "situation is delicately balanced."

"If some protesters use violence, they must respond in a proportionate manner," Kozlovsky added. "The reckless rhetoric by some leaders in the lead-up to the border deal, and the total lack of transparency around the agreement, have raised tension and made the possibility of violence more likely."

The Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov recently threatened the protesters in Ingushetia by saying that the demonstrators "will be held accountable."

On September 26, police detained several protesters during a similar rally on the outskirts of Magas against what critics say is the unfair handover of parts of Ingushetia to neighboring Chechnya.

The two regions used to be parts of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. They split in 1992, following the Soviet Union's collapse the previous year.

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.

With reporting by Caucasian Knot, AP, Reuters, and AFP