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Chechnya's New Leader Sworn In Amid Tight Security

The Russian-backed president won in an election that critics say was manipulated.

October 20, 2003|From Times Wire Services

MOSCOW — Akhmad Kadyrov was inaugurated Sunday as president of the war-racked Russian republic of Chechnya, two weeks after winning an election that the Kremlin promoted as a significant step toward stability, but critics called a sham.

In a reflection of the violence that continues to plague Chechnya, where the second war in a decade is in its fifth year, the location of the inauguration was not made public ahead of time because of concerns that rebels might try to attack the ceremony.

The inauguration took place in Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city, rather than the capital, Grozny. Officials attending were even told to switch off mobile phones for security reasons, Russian news agencies reported.

The Kremlin appointed Kadyrov as Chechnya's top civilian official in 2000. Kadyrov, an Islamic cleric, had supported separatist rebels during the 1994-96 war, but he split with them after they mounted an incursion into neighboring Dagestan in 1999.

Human rights groups have questioned the turnout figures given for Kadyrov's Oct. 5 election, saying they appeared to be inflated. The head of the Chechen elections commission said 85% of the province's 560,000 voters cast ballots, and Kadyrov received more than 80% of the vote.

According to opinion polls, Kadyrov had been running well behind two other candidates in the weeks ahead of the election, but those two candidates left the race. One became an advisor to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and the other's candidacy was invalidated by the Chechen Supreme Court.

Those moves raised wide speculation that the Kremlin was manipulating the election to ensure Kadyrov's victory.

At the inauguration, Kadyrov said he would seek economic autonomy for Chechnya, the Interfax news agency reported. Russian officials have discussed granting Chechnya substantial self-rule, but no details have been worked out.

Kadyrov also pledged to wipe out the insurgents.

"We will hit the terrorists in the outhouse," he said, echoing Putin's widely publicized pledge when the second war began more than four years ago.

Kadyrov has said that his first move as president will be to form a commission to investigate all crimes in Chechnya since 1991, allowing separatists and civilians to come forward with complaints of crimes by Russian troops and rebels.

"My main ambition is to restore peace in Chechnya, give the Chechen people jobs and confidence in the future," Kadyrov was quoted as by Interfax as saying.

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