Police and protesters clash in Russia's Ingushetia

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NAZRAN, Russia, Sep 19 (Reuters) Riot police used batons and fired into the air as they tried to break up a demonstration today against arbitrary detentions in the southern Russian region of Ingushetia, a Reuters witness said.

Riot police and interior ministry troops encircled about 500 protesters in the centre of regional capital Nazran after they refused to disperse. Police started beating people with batons and protesters threw stones back, the Reuters witness said.

Violence has scarred Russia's North Caucasus region since 1994 when Chechen rebels and Russian soldiers fought the first of two wars, but the focus of fighting has shifted firmly to Ingushetia this summer and attacks now occur almost daily.

The demonstrators demanded an end to night raids by security forces.

Local residents say that, mirroring tactics used against suspected rebels in Chechnya, security forces have been illegally detaining young men in the middle of the night. The protesters said many are beaten and some never return.

Four protesters and three riot police were injured in the demonstration. Hundreds of protesters remained in Nazran and vowed to stay through the night, and late today were still shouting at riot police.

''Stop the tyranny against Ingush youth,'' read one of the banners carried by the demonstrators.

The protesters had unveiled carpets to pray on and unwrapped food to eat.

Rebels, who include separatists and Islamists, have been mounting increasingly intensive attacks against security forces and local officials in the region.

Two policemen died today after gunmen fired into a car they were driving in, a day after assassins killed a district police head as he left a village mosque after evening prayers.

Many fighters are believed to have been flushed by pro-Moscow forces from neighbouring Chechnya.

REUTERS GL BST2340

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