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Chechen Minister Wins Support for Presidential Bid

The influential son and associates of assassinated President Kadyrov endorse Alu Alkhanov, the pro-Russian head of the region's police.

June 11, 2004|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Chechnya's strongly pro-Russian interior minister Thursday became the leading contender to replace recently assassinated President Akhmad Kadyrov, winning the endorsement of the slain leader's powerful son and closest associates.

The candidacy of Alu Alkhanov, who heads the war-torn region's police, "was unanimously approved by the team of the late Chechen president and supported by his numerous supporters," Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who at 27 is by law too young to run, told Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

Power in Chechnya is largely in the hands of the pro-Kremlin administration put together in recent years under the leadership of the elder Kadyrov, who for a time in the 1990s was a top Muslim religious leader on the side of Chechen separatists. He switched sides and won the favor of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who has tried to pacify Chechnya through military force and by granting considerable autonomy to the regional government -- a kind of "Chechenization" of the long-running conflict.

Moscow's strategy was disrupted May 9 when a bomb blasted the VIP section of bleachers at a military parade in a stadium in Grozny, the Chechen capital, killing Kadyrov and five other people.

Authorities announced Thursday the detention of two suspects in the bombing. The two, residents of Chechnya, ages 22 and 28, had confessed, said Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky, in comments reported by Russian news agency Interfax. He did not release other details.

Last month, authorities announced the detention of a builder who was involved in repair work at the stadium before the blast. Investigators believe the explosive device had been hidden in the VIP section.

Akhmad Kadyrov built his power partly through developing a strong militia, headed by his son, that accepted former rebels into its ranks.

Many observers say there are deep rivalries between these former guerrillas and those, such as Interior Minister Alkhanov, who always have fought on Russia's side.

But the younger Kadyrov on Thursday stressed unity.

Akhmad "Kadyrov always had hope in Alkhanov, that he would establish order in Chechnya, and he always declared that everything should be put in the hands of the Chechen police," Ramzan Kadyrov said on television.

The younger Kadyrov's support makes Alkhanov the leading contender in the Aug. 29 presidential election, said Alexei Malashenko, a Chechnya specialist at the Carnegie Moscow Center. The other obvious candidate for the Chechen presidency, Malashenko said, is Ruslan Yamadayev, a member of the lower house of parliament from Chechnya with the United Russia party.

Putin could refrain from making a choice between the two pro-Kremlin candidates and encourage both to run, giving the appearance of a democratic election, Malashenko said. Akhmad Kadyrov was elected last year after rivals were pressured from the race, leading critics to describe the balloting as neither free nor fair.

Yamadayev was a commander for the separatist guerrillas in the first war, from 1994 to 1996, which led to several years of Chechen autonomy. Russian forces returned in 1999 and have been fighting pro-independence guerrillas since. Yamadayev came over to Moscow's side with Kadyrov in 1999.

Alkhanov, on the other hand, has been described as a hero of the Russians' failed effort to hold off rebel forces who assaulted Grozny in 1996, leading to Chechen self-rule.

"Commanding his unit, he resisted the rebels in Grozny in August 1996 when all other units and forces gave up fighting," Chechen State Council member Shirvani Yasayev said last month in an interview with Interfax supporting the interior minister's candidacy.

"He and his policemen broke out of the railway station, which was encircled by illegal armed units," Yasayev said. "He has been wounded several times. If all chiefs of security agencies and federal force commanders had put up resistance to the rebels like Alkhanov, the August 1996 events would have never happened."

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