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- Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - From Print Edition


MOSCOW: Russia on Monday replaced the leader of Dagestan, a volatile region in the Northern Caucasus where federal forces are struggling to contain a growing Islamist insurgency fuelled by corruption and poverty.


President Vladimir Putin relieved Dagestani leader Magomedsalam Magomedov of his post and appointed ruling party lawmaker Ramazan Abdulatipov acting head of the region on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the Kremlin said in a statement.


The Kremlin said Magomedov, 48, had left the post of “his own volition”, but experts say he was forced out of the job he had held since 2010. Observers say Magomedov, the son of former Dagestani chief Magomedali Magomedov, had been seen as a weak leader who was unable to bring about order in the region.


Grigory Shvedov, editor of the Kavkaz Uzel (Caucasian Knot) online news site, said violence and corruption went unchecked during Magomedov’s reign. “The amount of bribes has dramatically increased over the past years,” Shvedov told AFP. That sentiment was echoed by Gadzhimurad Omarov, head of the regional branch for leftist political party A Just Russia, who said resentment against Magomedov ran deep in the region of nearly three million.


“Dagestan is mired in chaos and anarchy,” Omarov told AFP. “Rank-and-file, simple Dagestanis have been waiting for it,” he said, referring to Magomedov’s departure. Over the past few years the region has seen a spate of violent crimes that critics say Magomedov was unable to stop. He fared especially poorly compared with fellow Caucasus leaders Ramzan Kazyrov, who rules next-door Chechnya with an iron fist, and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, a former paratrooper who security analysts said managed to bring a degree of stability to conflict-torn Ingushetia.


Chechnya was the scene of two separatist wars over the past two decades but violence in the region has moved to Dagestan in recent years. The overwhelmingly Muslim republic, which is famously home to dozens of ethnic groups and languages, experiences almost daily shootings and bombings that officials blame on local criminals and Islamists with links to Chechnya. Driven by endemic poverty and aided by rampant corruption, the militants are seeking to establish an independent Islamic state across the Northern Caucasus.