Putin fires head of Russia's restive Dagestan region

MOSCOW Mon Jan 28, 2013 9:11am EST

Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during a ceremony, in which the diplomatic credentials of newly appointed ambassadors were accepted, at the Kremlin in Moscow January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Mikhail Metzel/Pool

Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during a ceremony, in which the diplomatic credentials of newly appointed ambassadors were accepted, at the Kremlin in Moscow January 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mikhail Metzel/Pool

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin has dismissed the head of Russia's southerly Dagestan province, the Kremlin said on Monday, signaling concern over mounting Islamist violence, corruption and political rivalries in the Caucasus.

Putin appointed Magomedsalam Magomedov, 49, to a role in the presidential administration, the Kremlin statement said, removing him from a post that he had held since 2010.

Ramzan Abdulatipov, 67, a veteran politician elected last year as deputy head of the ruling United Russia party in the lower house of parliament, was named acting head of Dagestan. The Kremlin did not specify any reason for the move.

Throughout the 13 years since Putin rose to power and crushed a separatist revolt in Chechnya, Russia has battled a simmering insurgency across its mainly Muslim provinces strung along the northern flank of the Caucasus mountains.

Dagestan is now the center of militant violence in the region, where suicide bombings, sniper attacks on officials and shootouts at road checkpoints are a near daily occurrence.

In 2012, militants killed 211 law enforcement officers and 78 civilians in the North Caucasus, the head of the Interior Ministry's operations in the region said last week.

The impending 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, at the opposite, Western end of the Caucasus, is making control of the Islamist threat ever more urgent.

"Dagestan is without question the most important security concern in the region and, with the Sochi Olympics approaching, the Kremlin needs to impose order," said Akhmed Yarlikapov, an expert on Dagestan with the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Islamist insurgency and a wider turn toward religious conservatism in the north Caucasus are fuelled at least in part by soaring unemployment as well as anger about corruption and the failure of authorities to provide basic health care, policing and education.

The province is due to hold elections in the autumn - although under a draft bill backed by Putin's ruling party, the vote could be scrapped in favor of a system that would allow Putin to pick his preferred candidate.

While born in Dagestan, Abdulatipov has mostly lived in Moscow and as such is viewed as less tainted by fierce political and business rivalries over resources and public funds in the Caspian Sea region, experts said.

Abdulatipov told the Itar-tass news agency that he planned to "fight unemployment and corruption, and take all possible measures to guarantee security in the region".

(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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