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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cherkessia Bans Opposition Rallies

The leader of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Vladimir Semyonov, issued a decree Mondaybanning all public rallies and street demonstrations in the North Caucasus republic in an attempt to end protests by a rival ethnic group demanding his ouster.

Semyonov told reporters in Cherkessk, the republic's capital, that he issued the decree to ensure the territorial integrity of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, his spokeswoman said.

"Vladimir Magomedovich [Semyonov] has stressed that this decree aims at preventing the instigation of ethnic tensions and ensuring stability in the republic," his press secretary, Irina Myagkova, said in a telephone interview.

Semyonov - who represents the Karachai, the second largest ethnic group in the republic after the Russians - won a presidential election in the republic last May.

He defeated Stanislav Derev, the mayor of Cherkessk and the leader of the Cherkess, the third largest ethnic group in the republic.

However, Derev and his supporters maintain that the poll was rigged and they demand the establishment of a separate Cherkess republic within Russia. Hundreds of Cherkess activists have been rallying in the central square of Cherkessk for weeks.

Derev's chief campaigner, Boris Akbashev, said Monday that no decree will make them retreat.

He said the Cherkess are placing much hope in the Supreme Court, which is to decide later this month on whether to overrule the local court's decision that proclaimed the results of the May elections valid and installed Semyonov as president of Karachayevo-Cherkessia.

But even if the court rules that Semyonov's presidency is illegal, the Cherkess will not stop picketing the government building in Cherkessk and will continue to press for their own republic, he said.

It was not clear what effect, if any, Semyonov's decree will have.

Police are not planning to use force to implement it, said Natalya Vorobyova, spokeswoman for the republic's Interior Ministry department. "The situation in the republic is too tense for any incautious use of force," she said.

In issuing the decree, Semyonov, the former chief of Russia's ground troops, appeared to have the backing of President Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin's representative in the republic, Ivan Golubev, has publicly supported the decree, Semyonov's spokeswoman said.

Yeltsin issued a separate decree Friday setting up a special commission charged with stabilizing the situation in Karachayevo-Cherkessia and forming local administrative bodies which would have fair representation of all local ethic groups.

The commission, according to the president's decree, will be responsible for preventing "international terrorists from using the territory of the republic for actions aimed at undermining the security of the Russian Federation."

Russian police believe at least three natives of Karachayevo-Cherkessia were involved in the recent series of apartment building explosions.