Court in Russia’s North Caucasus overturns land swap deal

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, file photo, people pray during a protest against the new land swap deal agreed by the heads of the Russian regions of Ingushetia and Chechnya, in Ingushetia's capital Magas, Russia. The Constitutional Court of Ingushetia ruled on Tuesday Oct.30, 2018, to invalidate the deal that was signed last month by the leaders of that region and Chechnya. (AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev, file)

MOSCOW (AP) — A court in the Russian province of Ingushetia on Tuesday overturned a land swap deal with another North Caucasus region that caused large-scale protests.

The Constitutional Court of Ingushetia ruled to invalidate the deal with neighboring Chechnya that was signed last month by their leaders, saying that it can’t be implemented without approval by a referendum.

Ingushetia’s leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov contested the ruling, saying the court has overstepped its authority. He argued that the land swap remains valid and only Russia’s Constitutional Court has the power to decide whether it conformed to the federal law.

The land swap has triggered protracted protests in Ingushetia, where many saw it as a betrayal of the region’s interests. Its opponents have called for Yevkurov’s ouster.

Yevkurov has countered by saying that the agreement would help strengthen stability, and warned against using the issue to inflame regional tensions.

The controversy reflects deep-running distrust between the two mostly Muslim Russian regions, which share the same language but have been divided by land and other disputes. Chechnya and Ingushetia formed one republic during 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. Chechnya’s regional leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has used generous federal subsidies to rebuild the region and crushed Islamist rebels with his feared security forces, accused of rampant human rights abuses.

The Kremlin saw Kadyrov as essential for stability of the region, and the ruler of Chechnya has expanded his clout across the entire North Caucasus.

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