GROZNY, Russia, June 3 Authorities in the Chechen capital have dismantled a memorial to the victims of Soviet repression, triggering public outrage in the southern Russian region.
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," Zaur Timerbayev, who lives in the city, said.
"There should be a referendum. This is a catastrophe."
Thousands of Chechens died when Soviet leader Josef Stalin deported almost the entire 500,000 population in 1944 for suspected collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War Two. In 1956 the Soviet leadership encouraged Chechens to return.
Just a 20 minute walk from the centre 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 Russian soldiers and Chechen forces, Kremlin-backed Ramzan Kadyrov rules with little opposition and public dissent is now rare.
He 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," 59-year-old Idris Gaitukayev said.
"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 1991 break up of the Soviet Union.
He ordered the monument to be built and it has long been associated with him and Chechen nationalism. A laser-guided missile killed Dudayev in 1996 at the end of the first war in Chechnya when Chechen fighters forced Russian soldiers to leave. (Writing by James Kilner in Moscow; Editing by Charles Dick)