Page last updated at 20:51 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Historic flight leaves Chechnya

Passengers at Grozny airport, 16 November
Chechnya's leader says international flights will boost the economy

The first international flight to leave conflict-hit Chechnya in 15 years has taken off from the airport in Grozny.

The Boeing 757 left with 200 pilgrims travelling to Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

The flight was seen off at the airport by Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

An official statement said seven aircraft would carry 2,000 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, and regular international flights would begin soon.

"Today's event is a big success for our people," Mr Kadyrov said.

Difficult journeys

He paid tribute to those who had made a difficult journey from other parts of the region to reach Grozny for the flight.

Mr Kadyrov said he hoped the resumption of international flights would boost Chechnya's economy.

Map of Chechnya

Moscow decided to lift all restrictions on international flights from Grozny earlier this month.

The move followed Moscow's announcement in April that anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya were to end as stability had returned.

Russian forces fought two conflicts with separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and sporadic violence in Russia's North Caucasus region has continued.

In recent months, human rights activists have been the target of kidnappings and killings.

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