Yevkurov Gets Nod in Ingushetia

Ingushetia's parliament on Friday confirmed Yanus-Bek Yevkurov, a hitherto obscure military officer, to replace Murat Zyazikov as president of Ingushetia, a day after Zyazikov resigned suddenly as the head of the troubled republic.

Ingushetia's parliament confirmed Yevkurov's appointment Friday, with 16 deputies voting for, one against and one vote being invalidated, Interfax reported.

The departure of Zyazikov, who had become increasingly unpopular after months of escalating violence in the republic, was welcomed by the local opposition and most of the population after the Kremlin's announcement Thursday evening.

"There is dancing in the streets. ... There is exuberance everywhere," opposition leader Magomed Khazbiyev was quoted as saying by the Kavkaz-Uzel news service.

Ruslan Aushev, Ingushetia's president during the 1990s, and whose return to the post had been called for by the opposition, said Zyazikov's departure was long overdue.

"Yevkurov is the best solution for Ingushetia," he was quoted as saying by Kommersant.

A source in the regional presidential administration said the new leader was not a temporary appointment. Yevkurov "will be president for five years," the source said, on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The new president did not make any public statement Friday, yet he was in parliament during the vote, the source said.

Kaloi Akhilgov, a lawyer for the oppositional web site, whose owner Magomed Yevloyev was killed after being detained by police in August in Ingushetia's main city, Nazran, said the Kremlin had wanted to appoint Yevkurov earlier.

"This was the third time they asked him, but he had always refused," Akhilgov said in an interview published Friday on the web site. "He did not want to accept this time either, but they insisted and he probably got some concessions."

Investigators have charged a police officer with accidentally shooting Yevloyev.

It remained unclear how Yevkurov, a paratroop officer who last held a senior post in the headquarters of the Volga-Ural Military District in Yekaterinburg, would manage to quell the unrest in the impoverished mountain republic.

"Nobody knows anything about him, and his task will not be easy," Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said Friday.

According to national media, Yevkurov led the 200-man contingent that caught NATO off guard in 1999 by speeding from Bosnia to Kosovo to occupy the airport in the capital of Pristina.

The operation at the end of the war over the Serbian province risked a dangerous confrontation with NATO troops, who were also heading to the airport.

It was later revealed that an armed clash was only averted because the local NATO commander, British General Michael Jackson, flatly refused to be involved in a conflict that could "start World War III."

One year later, Yevkurov was awarded the Hero of Russia medal by then-President Vladimir Putin for his participation in the war in Chechnya.

"From what I hear, he is a tough guy, very tough," said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, Reuters reported.

Zyazikov's unpopularity was widely believed to stem from heavy-handed security operations, which have nonetheless failed to reduce violence in the republic.

Only last week, his administration took the unusual step of inviting foreign reporters to Ingushetia, apparently to demonstrate that he was in control. Zyazikov then said talk of civil war in the republic came from people with "cockroaches in their heads."