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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Putin's man wins Chechen poll
Russian soldier watches voters from an armed personnel carrier
Security was tight - polling stations were said to resemble army bases
The pro-Moscow candidate in Chechnya has won a landslide victory in the republic's presidential poll.

Akhmad Kadyrov's support was running at 81.1% with 77% of the vote counted, election officials said.

The vote is part of Moscow's plans to stabilise Chechnya, but human rights groups have dismissed it as a farce and international bodies raised questions over its legitimacy.

The Kremlin made clear its strong support for Mr Kadyrov, a former rebel warlord who changed sides after Russian troops ejected the separatist government in 1999.

The very fact of such a high turnout is evidence that people have hopes... positive change in the life of the republic
Vladimir Putin
Russian President
He is already head of the regional administration.

The rebels boycotted the ballot.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the official turnout figures of nearly 89%.

"The very fact of such a high turnout is evidence that people have hopes, hopes for a better life, hopes for positive change in the life of the republic," he said.

It is regrettable that in the run-up to the elections there was a lack of real pluralism among candidates
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
OSCE chairman
But the chairman of the democracy watchdog OSCE drew attention to the lack of serious opponents to Mr Kadyrov.

"It is regrettable that in the run-up to the elections there was a lack of real pluralism among candidates," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's secretary general-designate.

"I very much hope that the new authorities will pursue an active policy of dialogue and reconciliation," he added.

I am proud of being a Kremlin man
Akhmad Kadyrov
Mr Kadyrov himself shrugged off questions over the election's fairness.

"Some media will definitely start to say that the election was rigged and that I am a Kremlin man," he said.

"I am proud of being a Kremlin man."

Thousands of police officers were deployed during the vote and the BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Chechnya says the polling stations he saw looked more like army bases.

With the remaining 23% of the votes still to be counted, the head of the republic's electoral commission Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov said the vote had been "absolutely free: no pressure was put on people to vote one way or the other".

"Akhmad Haji Kadyrov, who has won with a large - I would even say huge - majority has become president," said Chechen Prime Minister Anatoly Popov.

Hope and apathy

Mr Kadyrov faced six other candidates after his three main rivals were removed from the ballot well in advance.

Akhmad Kadyrov

Chechen separatists led by Aslan Maskhadov, who was himself elected president in 1997 after the region broke away from Russia, have said that Sunday's vote will make no difference to their violent campaign for independence.

It was a "criminal action by the occupation forces", said Mr Maskhadov.

Chechnya has an estimated 545,000 voters.

However, 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.

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

Peace plan

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

It will be followed by a treaty to delineate powers between the region 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.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) did not send observers to Sunday's vote.

However, some monitors from the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Arab League and other ex-Soviet states were present.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
"Human rights groups... dismiss the election as a farce"

Chechen déjà vu
06 Oct 03  |  Europe
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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