NAZRAN, Russia Aug 4 More than 80,000 people have signed a petition in the Russian republic of Ingushetia calling on the authorities to sack the Kremlin-backed president and reappoint a previous leader, activists said on Monday.
Assassinations, bomb attacks and kidnaps have intensified in Ingushetia, a small Muslim republic with less than 500,000 people which borders Chechnya where Russian forces fought two wars against rebels since 1994.
The petition is the latest protest against Murat Zyazikov, who became president in 2002.
"Of course people were afraid to fill out the petition because they were worried about being picked up by the security services and beaten," an opposition activists who called himself Bekkhan said.
"But when we explained to them that this was necessary for the republic, in most cases they signed the petition."
Last week the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said groups of men attacked and kidnapped opposition activists with impunity in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, where Russian forces fought two wars against rebels since 1994.
Russian forces have been trying to quash the growing wave of violence in Ingushetia by tripling the number of soldiers in the republic but residents have grown increasingly frustrated and protested against the authorities.
Bekkhan, the opposition activist, said signatures had been collected over the last six months and the petition called for former president Ruslan Aushev to replace Zyazikov who retains public support of the Russian government.
Aushev was a high ranking army commander who received the Soviet Union's top award -- the Hero of the Soviet Union -- and who retains a high degree of respect from people in Ingushetia.
He resigned as Ingushetia's president in 2001 amid differences with the Kremlin. In 2004 the Kremlin abolished directly elected regional leaders.
"Aushev is a hero of the Soviet Union, not by his words but by his deeds," a resident of Nazran, Ingushetia's biggest town, called Islam who signed the petition, said.
A spokesman at Zyazikov's press office declined to comment on the petition. (Writing by James Kilner in Moscow; editing by Sami Aboudi)