MOSCOW (AP) — The regional legislature in the Russian province of Ingushetia has decided to review a land swap deal that has raised tensions in the country’s volatile North Caucasus region, a lawmaker said Saturday.
Last month, Ingushetia and the neighboring province of Chechnya agreed to exchange what they described as unpopulated plots of agricultural land. The agreement, which was approved by the parliaments of both regions earlier this week, immediately triggered massive protests in Ingushetia.
Demonstrators have continued an unsanctioned rally in the provincial capital of Magas for a third straight day Saturday to protest the deal, which is seen by many as hurting Ingushetia’s interests.
On Saturday, local lawmaker Set-Salim Akhilgov told the protesters that the parliament vote had been annulled. Akhilgov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that lawmakers decided to reconsider the issue again on Monday.
The region’s Constitutional Court has sided with critics of the deal, ruling that the agreement should be put to a referendum.
Federal Russian authorities have refrained from commenting on the topic.
The tensions over the land swap reflect deep-running distrust between the two mostly Muslim regions, which share the same language but have been divided by land and other disputes. Chechnya and Ingushetia formed one republic during the Soviet times, but split after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.
Chechnya was devastated by two separatist wars in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Its regional strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, then rebuilt the region with generous federal subsidies. He has relied on his feared security service, which has been accused of extrajudicial killings, abductions and torture, to crush Islamist rebels.
The Kremlin has seen Kadyrov as essential for the region’s stability and the ruler of Chechnya has expanded his clout across the entire North Caucasus region.