Russia trumpets Chechnya's 'democratic and honest' poll

Six years after Grozny was blasted to smithereens on the orders of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, it was claimed that the separatist-minded people of Chechnya now support the man who commanded the almost total destruction of their capital.

Chechnya's Moscow-backed government said that a majority of Chechens voted for Mr Putin's symbolically named United Russia Party in the first parliamentary elections to be held there since 1999, when Russian troops entered the republic for the second time in a decade.

Protected by hundreds of special forces troops, and a wall of blast-proof concrete, Chechnya's Moscow-backed president, Alu Alkhanov, was told by aides that preliminary results from Sunday's election indicated that United Russia garnered more than 60 per cent of the vote with a turnout of a similar level.

Calling the elections "democratic, honest and transparent", he dismissed accusations that the vote was rigged and said the result showed Chechens wanted democracy, stability and real improvement in their lives. "Nobody could force the Chechen people to vote. They participated freely and made choices of their own free will." He said United Russia had done "huge work" to make a difference to people's lives - hence its victory yesterday.

The ministry where he was talking suggested, however, that such work had barely begun. An enormous pile of bricks that clearly used to be a large building was piled up on one side while on the other vast low-lying factories which Russian bombs had turned into cavernous rusty cowsheds stretched for as far as the eye could see. A bombed out Soviet-style apartment block seemed like an unlikely prop for feel-good propaganda but the authorities obviously had no choice.

In the Finance Ministry opposite, Mr Alkhanov, a former police officer, presented the election results flanked by a dozen European politicians who had observed the process.

When a journalist asked the politicians to give their assessment of the vote, the microphone was cut and the press conference terminated.

"We've been told we can't give our opinion about the election," one observer said afterwards.

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