Protesters Clash With Riot Police in Ingushetia

APEmergency Situations Ministry personnel working around the pro-government newspaper's building on Saturday.
NAZRAN -- Police have detained and beaten up two journalists who were covering a protest in the southern region of Ingushetia against alleged vote rigging, one of the reporters said Sunday.

Russia is fighting a growing insurgency in the impoverished, mainly Muslim republic of Ingushetia, where journalists say they are regularly beaten by the local security services.

Riot police fired warning shots in the air and beat protesters who turned up for the rally Saturday in Ingushetia's capital, Nazran, and the offices of a local government-owned newspaper were set on fire.

The two journalists, Mustafa Kirkiyev, a reporter for Moscow newspaper Zhizn and freelance photographer Said-Khussein Tsarnayev, were detained by police as they approached the burning newspaper office.

"I was detained outside," Kirkiyev said by telephone from the police station where he was taken.

"Policemen pulled us out of the car and started to beat us, there were about 10 to 12 people," he said, adding that he was so badly beaten that an ambulance was later called to the cell where he was being detained.

The journalists had a brief appearance in court, where they were fined for breaching public order, but the police refused to free them as the judge had instructed. The police and Interior Ministry declined to comment.

Opponents of local Kremlin-backed leader Marat Zyazikov called the rally to protest the official results of December's parliamentary election, which gave the pro-Kremlin party 99 percent of the vote.

The rally organizers said they had gathered signatures from about one-fifth of the region's residents, who said they did not vote in the election.

Violence in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, has soared in recent months, fueled by anger against the local authorities, which are blamed for abductions and beatings by armed groups linked to the security forces.

Zyazikov, a former Federal Security Service officer, says the media are exaggerating instability and has accused unidentified forces of trying to stir up trouble.