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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Votes To Curtail Some Rights In Stavropol

Some constitutional rights would be suspended and armed Cossack patrols would receive police powers in the southern Stavropol region under a bill that received preliminary approval in the State Duma on Thursday.

Anxious to combat crime and incursions from guerrillas in separatist Chechnya in the North Caucasus, deputies voted 279 to 2 for the law on a preliminary first reading, despite warnings from the government that it defied the Constitution and violated gun control laws.

The government and several legislators said substantial amendments were in the works. The bill calls the measures temporary but offers no expiration date.

Last week, guerrillas ambushed a five-man police patrol in the region, killing four officers. They wired the bodies with explosives and kidnapped the fifth officer. There were guerrilla attacks, blamed by the government on Chechens, in neighboring Dagestan as well; all told, seven Russian police and interior troops were killed.

Chechen fighters struck fear in early 1995, taking more than 1,000 hostages in a hospital during a bloody raid in the Stavropol region city of Budyonnovsk. An explosion in 1997 killed several people at a railway station in Pyatigorsk, a resort town in the region. Two Chechen women were convicted of the bombing.

"Tragic events such as Budyonnovsk and the station in Pyatigorsk are continuing to this day," said the bill's sponsor, Viktor Ilyukhin, a Communist and former prosecutor. "Murders, kidnappings, cattle rustling from the territory of Stavropol into Chechnya ... open robbery, open slave trading - these are already typical in this region."

Citing constitutional provisions for suspending some civil rights for security's sake, Ilyukhin's bill would allow "the establishment of a special regime, envisaging the possibility of limiting human rights and freedoms to the degree necessary to protect the foundations of the constitutional order, morality, health, rights and the legal interests of the residents of the Stavropol region."

The bill's co-sponsor was a deputy from Stavropol, nationalist film director Stanislav Govorukhin, with legislators and the local governor as co-authors.

Gamid Askherhanov, a deputy from the Caucasus republic of Dagestan, said the bill should be revised to encompass all of the North Caucasus, but cautioned against restrictions on trade and transport that could cut supplies to other parts of the region. "The only highway to Dagestan runs through Stavropol," Askherhanov said.

In addition to restrictions on trade, real estate transactions and transport, the bill would permit local authorities to form public security patrols, drawing on local Cossack groups if they wished. Licensed gun owners could use their weapons when carrying out their duties, a provision the government says would violate gun control laws.

The local government would be granted powers to control borders and deport undocumented residents from the region, working with the federal government to set up entry quotas.

Yury Gontar, deputy chairman of the regional Duma and a co-author of the law, dismissed concerns that the patrols could abuse their powers.

"As to whether these [squads] would be any better than the gangs now in the territory - that's not even an appropriate question," Gontar said. "We never have time to take the mourning flags down. We bury people every other day."