Factbox - Facts about Russia's Chechnya republic

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MOSCOW, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Here are some facts about southern Russia's mostly Muslim Chechnya republic, where violence has escalated over recent months, leading the Kremlin to name the North Caucasus its biggest domestic political problem.

- A mountainous region in the Caucasus range, Chechnya is inhabited by a mainly Muslim people with a fearsome reputation dating from the late 18th century, when warlord Sheikh Mansour led a jihad (holy war) against Russian rule. It has been a thorn in the flesh of Russia's southern frontier ever since.

- Under Soviet rule, Chechnya was lumped together with ethnically close Ingushetia, with Grozny the combined region's capital. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ingushetia chose to become a republic within Russia while Chechnya declared independence.

- Soviet leader Josef Stalin, fearing Chechens would be disloyal, deported the entire nation in 1944 to Central Asia, where many died. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev let them return in 1957.

- After former Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev declared independence at the end of Soviet rule, Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent in troops in December 1994 and Russia became mired in a bloody separatist war.

- Mass rebel hostage-takings led to a truce being signed and Moscow withdrew its forces in 1996.

- During three years of de facto independence, the region was gripped by murders and kidnapping.

In 1999, after Chechen hardliners invaded the adjacent region of Dagestan, Vladimir Putin, then prime minister, blamed rebels for bombings in Russian cities, including Moscow, and troops were sent back to Chechnya and separatist leaders fled.

Officially called a counter-terrorist operation, this became the second war in Chechnya and Russia kept security restrictions and troops until April 2009.

- Putin, as president, started installing local proxies to run an administration loyal to Moscow. His first local boss, Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated in a bomb blast in May 2004. His son, Ramzan, is currently the president.

A rebel turned Kremlin loyalist, he is accused by rights groups of abductions and torture in present-day Chechnya, which he dismisses as attempts to discredit him.

- Chechen rebels seized a theatre in Moscow in 2002, holding 850 people hostage and demanding an end to the war. Around 120 hostages died. In September 2004, gunmen demanding Chechen independence seized a school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia, near Chechnya, resulting in the death of 330 people, more than half of them children.

- A spate of suicide bombs and armed attacks on law enforcement agencies since security restrictions were lifted in April 2009 have shattered a few years of relative calm in Chechnya.

- Chechen rebel Doku Umarov is Russia's most wanted guerrilla leader. His group claimed responsibility for an Aug. 17, 2009 dam disaster in Siberia that killed 75 and for bombing a Russian express train between Moscow and St Petersburg in November 2009 that killed 26 people.

- Kadyrov has amassed a large personal militia, which number in the thousands and are called "Kadyrovtsy". Rights groups and locals say they use heavy-handedness to execute Kadyrov's personal decrees and permeate society with fear. Kadyrov's spokesman, Alvi Karimov, says rights groups are misinterpreting the situation and Kadyrov himself has consistently denied any involvement in abductions or torture.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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