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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 October, 2003, 19:51 GMT 20:51 UK
Security tight for Chechen vote
Boy stands by van adorned with poster of Akhmad Kadyrov
Initial results put Kadyrov clearly in the lead
People in the Russian republic of Chechnya have cast their votes to choose a president.

Thousands of police officers were deployed during the ballot, which Moscow hopes will help bring peace to the troubled region.

BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg in Chechnya says the polling stations he saw looked more like army bases, with Russian troops and police - some even with armoured personnel carriers - guarding the entrances.

Human rights campaigners in Russia and abroad have denounced the election - for which no Western observers were present - as a farce, accusing the Kremlin of trying to fix the result.

Initial results indicated the Russian-appointed administrator of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, was clearly in the lead, with more than 90% of the vote in one polling district and nearly 80% in another, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

More than 81% of Chechnya's estimated 545,000 eligible voters cast ballots, the Interfax news agency quoted regional election commission chief Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov as saying.

Official results are not expected before 0900 GMT on Monday.

Hope and apathy

The election is part of Russia's plan to "normalise" the region, ravaged by war between 1994 and 1996 and again following a second Russian military assault in 1999.

Mr Kadryov's main rivals withdrew from the contest or were disqualified in the run-up to the poll.

Akhmad Kadyrov

Human rights groups have questioned whether the election can be fair amid almost daily bloodshed, with thousands of Russian troops engaged in a tense stand-off with rebels.

And some Chechens dismissed the proceedings as a sham.

"In my view all of Russia is far from democracy, and not just Chechnya," Liza Vishayeva told the Associated Press news agency, adding that she had not voted.

"To change this to a peaceful situation would be very tough."

However others were more hopeful, with one Chechen man telling AP the ballot was "the road to life, the road to justice".

'Voting for stability'

In June, an opinion poll carried by the Moscow-based research company Validata, suggested support levels of 20.1% for businessman Malik Saidullayev, 19.3% for Moscow-based politician Ruslan Khasbulatov, 17.6% for Russian parliamentary deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov, and 12.5% for Akhmad Kadyrov.

Aslan Maskhadov
Mr Maskhadov was elected president in 1997
Mr Saidullayev's candidacy was subsequently annulled, and the other candidates, apart from Mr Kadyrov, withdrew from the race.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the vote as "the election of the first president of Chechnya".

However, some observers dismiss the election as meaningless since an internationally recognised presidential election was held in Chechnya in January 1997, resulting in the election of Aslan Maskhadov, who is now the rebel leader.

Although his five-year term ended in 2002, Mr Maskhadov maintains that he is still Chechnya's rightful president.

Sunday's election follows a constitutional referendum arranged by Moscow in March this year, and an amnesty which ran from June to September.

It will be followed by a treaty to delineate powers between the republic and the federal centre, which Mr Putin says will give Chechnya "autonomy in the broadest sense of the word".

Elections must also be held within three months for a two-chamber parliament required by the new constitution.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
"Akhmad Kadyrov, who once called for a holy war on Russia, is now Moscow's best friend"



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


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