Thousands gathered in Russia's Chechnya region Monday for an officially staged rally over the plight of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority that placed local strongman Ramzan Kadyrov at odds with the Kremlin.
A total of 87,000 mostly Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh since violence erupted in neighbouring Myanmar on August 25, with some alleging massacres by security forces and Buddhist mobs.
Kadyrov — who rules the mainly-Muslim Chechnya region in southern Russia with an iron fist — is a fierce loyalist of president Vladimir Putin, but has also sought to present himself as influential figure for Muslims worldwide.
‘Stop this bloodshed. We demand the guilty are punished and crimes against humanity are investigated,’ Kadyrov told the large crowd in central Grozny in a live broadcast on local television.
‘I am convinced that hundreds of millions of people around the world will hear our demand.’
The outspoken protest in Chechnya -- which Kadyrov claimed drew ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people from across the Russian Caucasus -- represented a rare public divergence between the leader and the official line from Moscow.
Russia has been muted over the latest violence in Myanmar and earlier this year reportedly even blocked a UN statement expressing fears over the situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
Russia and Myanmar are also allies who signed a military cooperation agreement last year, with Moscow of having exported military aviation and artillery to the country.
The country's foreign ministry said Sunday that is was ‘closely following’ the current situation and was ‘concerned by reports of ongoing armed clashes that have caused casualties among civilians and government security forces.’
Kadyrov — who rights groups accuse of rampant abuses — has previously staged a mammoth demonstration against the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
The latest rally in Chechnya came after some 1,000 Muslims gathered in Moscow Sunday to protest outside Myanmar's embassy in the city.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Europe