Chechens peacefully vote for new parliament

November 28, 2005|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MOSCOW -- The Russian republic of Chechnya elected a new parliament yesterday, a vote viewed by the Kremlin as a political milestone but criticized by human rights activists as illegitimate in the midst of a guerrilla war and reports of police abductions and torture of civilians.

The election of the Caucasus republic's 61-seat assembly marks the final step in the Kremlin's plan to bring peace to Chechnya, where separatists have been battling for independence since 1994.

The Kremlin's plan eschewed negotiations with separatist rebels and instead called for a three-tiered political process aimed at giving the province a degree of autonomy from Moscow. The plan included a new constitution - approved by voters in 2003 - and the election of a president last year, followed by a national vote to create a parliament.

"The fact that we are holding these elections for parliament is proof of stability," Chechen President Alu Alkhanov told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

However, rights groups that have been monitoring the conflict for years say that the province's persistent climate of fear casts doubt on any attempt to hold elections in Chechnya.

Concerned about potential violence, authorities deployed 24,000 Russian and local police and troops at the province's 430 polling stations. As of last night, there were no reports of major violence.

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