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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Outrage as Memorial Is Dismantled

GROZNY -- Authorities in Chechnya have dismantled a memorial to the victims of Soviet repression, triggering public outrage.

Workmen appeared without warning last week and dismantled the monument, erected by Chechen separatist leader Dzhokbar Dudayev, who fought Russia's armies in the 1990s.

"I'm outraged. To move such a monument you should ask the people," Grozny resident Zaur Timerbayev said. "There should be a referendum. This is a catastrophe."

Thousands of Chechens died when Soviet leader Josef Stalin deported almost the entire population of 500,000 in 1944 for suspected collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War II. In 1956 the Soviet leadership encouraged Chechens to return.

Just a 20-minute walk from the center of Grozny, the monument -- a stone fist clutching a sword and surrounded by Chechen tombstones -- dominated a busy road junction.

After two wars since 1994 between federal forces and Chechen rebels, Kremlin-backed Ramzan Kadyrov rules with little opposition, and public dissent is now rare.

Kadyrov wants to build a new monument commemorating the Soviet deportation of the Chechens on the outskirts of the city.

"The original place for the memorial was not very convenient," Kadyrov said in comments distributed by his press service. "The new location will include a place for ceremonies, a mosque and a composite history of the subject. An obelisk will be built with all the names of the people who died in the relocation of the Chechens."

But many Chechens were angry the memorial has been dismantled.

"I consider the removal of this monument as abuse," said Idris Gaitukayev, 59. "I was born during the time of the expulsions, many of my compatriots died, and I am seriously affected by what happened during this terrible period of my people's history."

Dudayev, a former Soviet air force general, emerged as head of the Chechen separatist movement after the break-up of the Soviet Union.