MOSCOW (AP) _ An explosion toppled a statue of Lenin in Russia's North Ossetia province Sunday, a day before President Boris Yeltsin was scheduled to visit the restive region.

The blast in Vladikavkaz, the capital of the province, may be a message of defiance to Yeltsin, who arrives Monday.

The area, part of the Russian northern Caucasus, is a center of resistance to Yeltsin's draft constitution. Local leaders say it would not give the region enough autonomy from Moscow.

Last August, explosives damaged the bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state that oppressed some ethnic groups in the Caucasus.

This time the blast brought his likeness down and shattered windows in nearby houses, ITAR-Tass said. Who planted the explosives remains a mystery.

In August, a Yeltsin-appointed military governor was shot dead by gunmen on horseback in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny district.

The district is the focus of a feud between two ethnic minorities, Ingush Muslims and Ossetian Christians. Hundreds have died in the violence.

Yeltsin has imposed a state of emergency and martial law on the area for more than a year. Despite the presence of an estimated 5,000 troops, tension is high.