New Chechen president

Parliament approves Kadyrov, strongman backed by Kremlin

March 03, 2007|By David Holley | David Holley,Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- A Kremlin-backed strongman who has spearheaded efforts to pacify war-battered Chechnya through a mix of repression and economic reconstruction won legislative approval yesterday as president of the region in southern Russia.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of a former Chechen president who was assassinated in 2004, is a former prime minister. He has been the most powerful figure in the region since his father's death but didn't turn 30, the minimum age for the presidency, until October. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin nominated him for the position Thursday.

Kadyrov expressed his appreciation and loyalty to Putin in televised remarks yesterday, saying that "there is support and understanding from the supreme commander-in-chief, and it only remains to serve him hand and foot."

Kadyrov won parliamentary approval with 56 out of 58 votes, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

During the first Chechen war, from 1994 to 1996, Kadyrov and his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, joined separatist rebels who won de facto self-rule for the region. The two men switched to the pro-Moscow side when Russian forces returned to Chechnya in 1999, starting the second Chechen war.

Ramzan Kadyrov was head of the presidential security force when his father was killed by a bomb that ripped through the VIP section of bleachers at a military parade in Grozny, the Chechen capital. He subsequently built up a powerful personal militia made up largely of other former rebels who had been granted amnesty after switching sides.

Human rights organizations have frequently accused Kadyrov's militia of human rights abuses, including kidnappings, torture and murder - allegations that he denies. Russian federal forces in Chechnya have also been accused of such abuses against civilians and suspected separatists.

In recent years, pro-Russian forces have killed several top separatist leaders. The strength of the insurgency has faded as Moscow has granted increasing autonomy to the pro-Kremlin Chechen government.

Putin dismissed Chechen President Alu Alkhanov last month, paving the way for Kadyrov to move into the post. Alkhanov and Kadyrov denied that there was a power struggle, but their disagreements had grown increasingly open in recent months.

Dmitry Kozak, Putin's envoy in southern Russia, alluded to those differences in televised comments yesterday.

"With Kadyrov's appointment, all those contradictions that had undermined the efficiency of the government in Chechnya have disappeared," he said.

Alexei Malashenko, a Chechnya specialist at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that despite questions about his commitment to human rights and democracy, Kadyrov can claim significant achievements.

"Some called him simply a gangster, but Ramzan has managed to discharge three main obligations to the Chechen people," Malashenko said.

David Holley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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