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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The price tag on a bride in Russia's Ingushetia province has been tripled by the regional government, in a sign the Muslim North Caucasus region is slipping out of Kremlin control as sharia law eclipses Russian.
Against the backdrop of a bubbling Islamist insurgency, the revival of Islam in the North Caucasus following the break-up of the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago has brought sharia law to the region, revered by both rebels and ordinary citizens alike.
The issue of the 'kalym', a price paid by a groom to the family of the woman he chooses to marry, is the latest example of a broader trend that has troubled the Kremlin.
"The increase of the kalym was decided by the residents themselves," the Kremlin-backed leader of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
At an Ingush conference for Muslim scholars and elders this week, attended by Yevkurov, the money a groom must pay the bride's family for her hand was increased from 12,500 roubles (265 pounds) to 40,000 roubles (851 pounds), the local government said on official website.
"It is time to raise the rates, and with them the responsibility of the groom," a statement on the site said.
Wary of the dangers of separatism after two bloody wars with Chechnya since the mid-1990s, the Kremlin has watched uneasily as central power yields to Islamic tenets in the region.
Polygamy, illegal under Russian law, is encouraged by local authorities in the region. Last month rights workers blamed police for paintball attacks on Chechen women for not wearing headscarves, and Islamist fighters in Ingushetia have gunned down kiosk workers for selling vodka.
During their meeting, Putin looked concerned as he told Yevkurov that the price rise for a bride did not correspond to Russian inflation.
Putin added he was not sure if the practice, widespread in the Caucasus and Central Asia, was Muslim in its nature.
"We have yet to thoroughly examine this," he told Yevkurov.
At this week's Ingush conference, it was also decided to raise ten-fold the price for settling a blood feud, to 1 million roubles, with the aim of decreasing the centuries-old practice that is widespread across the North Caucasus.
"Of course, it is better to move away from all this," Putin quipped to Yevkurov after he proudly announced the new price.
One of Russia's most popular newspapers, Moskovsky Komsomolets, splashed the bride price increase on its front page on Wednesday, jocularly headlined "Camel Rate."
"This erodes Russian security. If sharia is higher than the (Russian) constitution, it means that it is alright to kill policemen, soldiers and simply infidels," the paper wrote, referring to the near-daily attacks on law enforcement staged by rebels in the region.
Yevkurov, who narrowly survived a suicide bomb attack on his life last year, is widely seen as a moderate secular leader, unlike Chechen firebrand boss Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kadyrov, a devout Sufi Muslim, has been allowed by the Kremlin to usher in Muslim-inspired rules such as periodic alcohol bans and headscarves in state buildings, in exchange for maintaining a shaky peace in the volatile region.
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Maria Golovnina