'Time running out' for extremists in Caucasus: Putin
Time is running out for extremists who have committed a string of deadly attacks in Russia's Caucasus, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Tuesday in a keynote speech in the region.
"Yes, extremists are still carrying out acts of terror today but more and more they are degenerating into common criminal groups," Putin told a meeting of the ruling United Russia party.
"But their time is running out. We will with all our force protect the life, rights and security of our citizens," he said in the speech in the town of Kislovodsk in the Caucasus foothills.
"Never will we allow interference in our internal affairs or attempts to harm our territorial integrity or the sovereignty of Russia," said Putin.
The local pro-Kremlin authorities in the North Caucasus regions of Chechnya Dagestan and Ingushetia have for years battled to defeat an Islamist insurgency that has already killed scores of civilians and police.
Militants from the Caucasus were also blamed for the bombings on the Moscow metro on March 29 carried out by two female suicide bombers that killed 40 people in a pair of coordinated attacks.
Putin in his speech announced a major new programme to boost economic development in a region where chronic unemployment has been blamed as one of the main causes of Islamic militancy.
The prime minister, still seen as Russia's true number one, said external ideological influences remained a problem in the Caucasus.
"Here is a fight for people's minds, for people's moods and here we can't lose. We do not have right to behave passively," he said.
© 2010 AFP