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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Chechens vote in hope but no faith

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC correspondent in Grozny

Moscow's candidate, Akhmad Kadyrov was really the only man in the Chechen presidential race.

Armed Russian troops watch Chechen voters
At some polls there were more soldiers than voters
His campaign posters are plastered all over Chechnya, many pasted directly onto the ruins of war.

Vast colour portraits show Mr Kadyrov shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Compared with Moscow's man, the other six candidates were little more than names on paper.

Russian media talk of a party atmosphere in Chechnya, of grateful voters welcoming the elections as a new start.

Nothing has changed yet. So I don't see what will change now. But I suppose hope is the last thing to die
Mukhamad, Chechen resident
There certainly was music at some polling stations but little sense of celebration.

And there was little sign either of the impressive turnout - officially put at well over 85%.

There were more soldiers for security at some polls than voters.

Those who did come to vote had mixed feelings.

Akhmad Kadyrov
Rebels say Kadyrov is a traitor
After almost a decade of unrest, most said they were looking for stability above all.

"We just want to be able to work and to live properly again," one of the voters, Tamara, said.

"We want an end to this war," she added.

It's not hard to see why - much of Grozny still lies in ruins, shot through with shell fire and bullet holes.

Most people are afraid to go out after nightfall and many talk with horror of continuing operations by Chechen and Russian forces in which civilians disappear without trace.

Putin's personal battle

But not everyone believes the elections herald immediate improvement.

Soldier on guard in Grozny street
Much of Grozny still looks like a ghost town

Akhmad Kadyrov has been running Chechnya for three years already.

"Nothing has changed yet," Mukhamad, one of the local residents, complained.

"So I don't see what will change now. But I suppose hope is the last thing to die," he added.

For Moscow the vote is proof that life in Chechnya is returning to normal.

It is a vital claim for Mr Putin, for whom this has become a very personal battle.

On collision course?

But driving through the republic, things look far from ordinary.

Even in the northern plains, which Russia claims to control, there are endless military checkpoints, and soldiers sweeping the roads for mines.

An officer points out a large crater where a remote-controlled bomb tore through an army truck last month.

The rebels remain committed to resistance but they've been left out of this process.

Mr Kadyrov has already said there will be no more talk of independence.

That stance suits his backers in the Kremlin, but it puts the new Chechen leadership in direct conflict with the rebels.

Mr Kadyrov once declared holy war on Russia - the rebels now call him a traitor.

So even as Moscow celebrates his success, there are concerns its strategy will backfire and cause more violence, not peace.


SEE ALSO:
Chechen déjà vu
06 Oct 03  |  Europe
Putin's man wins Chechen poll
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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