Kremlin's candidate sweeps to power in Chechnya

Jim Heintz
Tuesday 07 October 2003 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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A former Muslim cleric backed by the Kremlin was declared President of Chechnya yesterday. The outcome was widely expected after his challengers withdrew or were removed from the election on Sunday in the Russian republic.

With more than 77 per cent of the votes counted, Akhmad Kadyrov, the acting president, had secured 81.1 per cent of the votes. Officials said that 85 per cent of Chechnya's 561,000 eligible voters had cast ballots.

Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, praised the election in a region devastated by a four-year separatist war. "The very fact of such a high turn-out shows that people have hope - hope for a better life, for positive changes in the life of the republic," he said. Mr Kadyrov said yesterday that he felt "an enormous burden of responsibility for the republic and for the people who trusted me".

Russian officials have promised that Chechnya will have a high degree of autonomy after the election, but the details have yet to be determined. Stanislav Ilyasov, Russia's minister for Chechen Affairs, said yesterday that Russian and Chechen officials would sign a treaty outlining the regional authorities' sphere of control by the end of the year.

Mr Kadyrov said that he would ask the Russian parliament to renew an amnesty that was offered to rebels during the summer and expired in September. He said that 171 fighters had surrendered under the amnesty and that many of them were now serving in his security service. Mr Kadyrov's security service has been accused of kidnappings and killings in Chechnya.

The election was criticised after two candidates who were faring better than Mr Kadyrov in early opinion polls disappeared from the ballot. One withdrew to become an adviser to President Putin, and the other was barred from running by the Chechen Supreme Court.

A pro-rebel website quoted Aslan Maskhadov, the separatist leader elected president of Chechnya in 1997 but denounced by Russian authorities as a terrorist, as calling Sunday's vote "a criminal action by the occupation forces" that was "doomed to failure".

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