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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Chechnya's troubled election
Damian Grammaticus
by Damian Grammaticus
BBC correspondent in Chechnya

Russia's main supply route to the Chechen capital Grozny is lined with Russian troops and armour.

Driving this road means a tense and dangerous journey. The jeep in front carries equipment sending out jamming signals, to prevent Chechen rebels detonating mines by remote control.

Poster of Kadyrov
There are posters of Kadyrov everywhere
In Russian the word Grozny means terrible. It's an apt description of the way this city has suffered.

The latest conflict that started four years ago drags on, the rebels refusing to give up their fight for independence.

Ours was an official visit. Every step controlled by the Kremlin. Watched over by a guard of Russian special forces.

The official Russian line is that things here are getting back to normal.

But every morning Russians check the road out of their base. Searching for mines planted overnight.

There are no official figures, but it's thought Russia is still losing up to three or four men a day.

Russia's solution is this weekend's elections for a president with limited powers.

There are seven candidates, but only one really in evidence - the Kremlin's man, Akhmad Kadyrov.

His poster even sits above one of his rival's headquarters.

'Unfair elections'

Moscow's hope is the elections will give Mr Kadyrov's rule legitimacy.

President Putin said Chechens can choose their own president. - but all the other serious candidates have been thrown out of the elections
Tais
Chechen woman
The Kremlin insists the poll can be free and fair, even amid the chaos left by war, and despite the fact that everyone lives in fear, soldiers and civilians alike.

With our minders watching, soldiers shadowing us everywhere, it was hard to snatch conversations with ordinary Chechens.

"These are very unfair elections," said a woman called Tais. "If you drive around the city you'll see they are staged for one person. President Putin said Chechens can choose their own president. But all the other serious candidates have been thrown out of the elections."

Mr Kadyrov has built up a private security force thought to number thousands. They're accused of intimidating people ahead of the poll.

Some Chechens say they now fear these men even more than the Russians.

At Grozny's television station they were open about their support for Mr Kadyrov.

Rivals

Other candidates occupy less airtime. Some haven't even bothered making campaign ads.

Troops at Grozny airport
There are Russian troops everywhere
A former Muslim cleric, Mr Kadyrov fought the Russians in the first Chechen war, then switched sides.

Of his main rivals two have withdrawn.

The most likely to beat him, Malik Saidullayev, has been barred from standing, apparently facing pressure to quit from the deputy head of Mr Putin's administration.

"It was put to me by Vladislav Surkov. I refused," Mr Saidullayev told the BBC.

"I said: it won't happen, I won't quit. I know that you'll get me out. I know that you have the resources to do it.

"They said 'Yes, we will get you out. But it's better if you do it yourself.' I refused."

Avoiding arrest

Meanwhile Chechens are still suffering. Thousands of young men have vanished without trace.

We are all being taken away, especially the young men
Ruslan
Chechen policeman
They're Chechnya's disappeared. And they're still vanishing.

We met Ruslan, a local policeman. He said he'd only joined the police to avoid being arrested himself.

"What else could I do if I stayed at home? There are still security raids. That kind of stuff.

"We are all being taken away, especially the young men."

Some who fled Chechnya are now returning. The Kremlin says it is another sign things are improving.

Deepening divisions

But many of these refugees were driven out by the war years ago.

Akhmad Kadyrov

And their own homes are lying in ruins, unfit to return to.

A woman called Fatima told us she had only left her refugee camp as it was no place for her grandson, Nur.

She's not even going to vote in the elections.

"These elections are just for show," she said. "I wanted to vote for Mr Saidullayev. But it's clear the winner has already been decided. Nothing will change."

The rebels have been excluded from the elections. They have no role, no candidates.

With this poll Moscow wants to say Chechens have abandoned the fighters for a more peaceful path.

The reality is checkpoints and Russian troops everywhere.

These elections are unlikely to change that or bring an end to the bloodshed.

In fact many believe they will simply deepen divisions in Chechnya.

By installing Mr Kadyrov Moscow will be able to hand more of the fight over to his forces. It would mean fewer Russians die in Chechnya.

But more Chechen lives cast away.


SEE ALSO:
Unending Chechen nightmare
12 May 03  |  Europe
Putin's man in Chechnya
03 Oct 03  |  Europe
Profile: Chechnya
30 Sep 03  |  Country profiles


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