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Changes at top of Russian republic

Opponents accuse Murat Zyazikov, the former KGB agent who has resigned as president, of political murders and persecuting critics during his rule in Ingushetia.

The resignation of Ingushetia's president, Murat Zyazikov, was accepted by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian leader, on 30 Oct 2008.
The resignation of Ingushetia's president, Murat Zyazikov, was accepted by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian leader, on 30 Oct 2008.

MOSCOW // Amid opponents' accusations of murder and corruption, the unpopular head of Russia's restive republic of Ingushetia has resigned, saying he plans to take a new post in Moscow. The resignation of Ingushetia's president, Murat Zyazikov, was accepted by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian leader, on Thursday, according to the Kremlin. A curt statement posted on the Kremlin website said only that Mr Medvedev had accepted Mr Zyazikov's resignation and appointed Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, deputy chief of staff of Russia's Volga-Urals military district, as his acting replacement. Gubernatorial elections were scrapped by the Kremlin in 2005 under Vladimir Putin, the president at the time but now Russia's powerful prime minister, and replaced by a system in which regional bosses are essentially appointed by Moscow. Whoever the Kremlin proposes as Mr Zyazikov's official replacement will have to be approved by Ingushetia's regional legislature, a process that is all but a formality. Mr Zyazikov told the state-run Itar-Tass news agency he stepped down of his own volition but that he was "in no way leaving the executive branch of power". "I am simply transferring to a job in Moscow, most likely to a federal structure," he told Itar-Tass. Neither Mr Zyazikov nor the Kremlin gave any details regarding his possible new post. "I believe that much has been done in the republic in these seven years, above all in the economic and social spheres," Mr Zyazikov said, Itar-Tass reported. "Without a doubt we were able to activate the work of law enforcement authorities." He added that "no matter what position or where I am, I will always help my native republic, Ingushetia". Under Mr Zyazikov's rule, a low-grade Islamic insurgency regularly carried out bomb attacks and ambushes on local officials in Ingushetia, a mainly Muslim republic that neighbours war-scarred Chechnya in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region. The Ingushetian opposition has accused Mr Zyazikov, a former KGB officer, of violently persecuting critics and authorising extrajudicial killings in the republic. Mr Zyazikov's opponents had long been calling for his dismissal, but it was the mysterious death of a prominent Ingushetian opposition figure, Magomed Yevloyev, that galvanised his opponents. Mr Yevloyev, the owner of the opposition website ingushetiya.ru, was shot dead by Ingushetian police while in custody on Aug 31. Authorities described the killing as a tragic accident following a scuffle in a police car, but the opposition called it a politically motivated assassination ordered by Mr Zyazikov. Mr Zyazikov denied any involvement in Mr Yevloyev's death, which was classified by Russian authorities as manslaughter. It was unclear whether the death had anything to do with Mr Zyazikov's resignation. Ibragim Yevloyev, an Ingushetian police officer who is not related to the slain opposition activist, is to stand trial for the crime. Mr Yevloyev's relatives vowed to avenge his death and declared a blood feud on Mr Zyazikov and Musa Medov, head of the Ingushetian branch of the Russian interior ministry. Relatives of Mr Zyazikov had been killed and injured in attacks following Mr Yevloyev's death. Authorities shut down ingushetiya.ru this summer after a court ruled in carried extremist content, but the site was subsequently relocated to ingushetia.org. The Ingushetian opposition has repeatedly called for the return of Mr Zyazikov's predecessor, Ruslan Aushev, to the presidency. Mr Aushev, who had a falling out with the Kremlin early in Mr Putin's first term, said in comments posted on ingushetia.org on Friday that he supported Mr Zyazikov's departure, which he called "long overdue". "Already in 2004 the first indications were appearing that the situation in the republic was getting out of control," Mr Aushev said. The pacification and reconstruction of neighbouring Chechnya has been hailed by the Kremlin as one of the great achievements of Mr Putin, but the continuing violence in Ingushetia has highlighted the instability that continues in Russia's North Caucasus region. Mr Zyazikov gave a rare interview to foreign journalists in the Ingushetian capital of Magas last week. According to Bloomberg news agency, he said the republic "is not, has not been and will not be on the brink of civil war. I'm not saying that everything is well. People are being killed, our colleagues are being killed. They're fighting a war with criminals." Magomed Khazbiyev, a prominent Ingushetian opposition leader, said in a telephone interview on Friday that Ingushetians were "grateful" to Mr Medvedev for Mr Zyazikov's resignation. "He showed who is the boss and that Russia is interested in the needs of the Ingush people," Mr Khazbiyev said. Mr Zyazikov's resignation "completely changes the situation in the republic" and will help end the rampant violence in Ingushetia, Mr Khazbiyev said. cschreck@thenational.ae