Warlord named Chechen president

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A FEARED Chechen warlord has been nominated president of the Russian republic, despite persistent allegations of torture laid against him.

One former supporter claimed that Ramzan Kadyrov runs the region like a "medieval tyrant", while human rights groups both inside Russia and abroad were aghast at the move.

The timing of the announcement from the Kremlin came as human rights organisations boycotted a conference in Chechnya organised by Mr Kadyrov.

But president Vladimir Putin fulfilled his pledge to the Kadyrov clan and confirmed Ramzan could become leader of the region, just months after he reached the minimum age, 30.

Mr Kadyrov is the son of a former Chechen president, Akhmad Kadyrov, who was blown up in a 2004 assassination. Both father and son had been active in the guerrilla campaign against overall Russian authority in the Caucasus republic, but then switched sides.

Mr Kadyrov jnr has been perceived as the president in waiting.

In the past few years, Mr Kadyrov has also orchestrated a cult of personality in Grozny, as he built his profile, fuelling speculation his loyalty to Moscow may be transient.

While unemployment and grinding poverty are rife, Mr Kadyrov has ostentatious taste - he travels the province in a Hummer, apparently a "gift" from grateful officials for bringing peace to the region. He is fond of boxing and often holds court in an ornate room above his own boxing club in the city of Gudermes.

In the past few years, Russia has poured enormous funds into Chechnya as it has sought to rebuild the region, especially the capital Grozny, which was destroyed in two wars in 1994 and 1999. Chechens and most other Caucasians are victims of racial abuse across the rest of Russia, but Moscow fears that if doesn't tame Chechnya, the energy-rich province could trigger a wave of secession movements elsewhere across the vast country.

Although some resistance to Russian rule continues in Chechnya and in neighbouring regions, such as Dagestan, the violence has ebbed dramatically, with the Beslan siege in 2004 the last major atrocity of the conflict.

Human rights groups claim the relative calm has only been achieved at an appalling cost. Mr Kadyrov, a father of five, is also alleged to have made a fortune through corrupt payments and illegal oil deals. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of the Helsinki Group rights organisation, was among the activists to snub the conference. "Kadyrov is to blame for kidnappings of many innocent people. Their bodies were found later with signs of torture", she said yesterday.

Last year, the NewYork-based Human Rights Watch said it had proof that at least ten illegal torture centres were operating in the region, and spoke to some of the victims.

Mr Kadyrov has also been accused of a role in the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was the most vocal Russian critic of human rights abuses in Chechnya. But he denied he was involved, with the telling comment: "I do not kill women."

After meeting yesterday, Mr Putin emphasised Mr Kadyrov's role in restoring order to Chechnya and called on him to continue the reconstruction process. Mr Kadyrov claimed he will work for the "dignity" of Chechens and vowed to suppress both terrorism and Islamic extremism in the region.

There was also criticism yesterday from Thomas Hammarberg, the EU human rights commissioner, who has been attending the international human rights conference that many Russian organisations are ignoring. Although he praised the major renovations he had seen in Grozny, which was destroyed by the fighting, he said he believed some of the stories of systematic torture of prisoners in the region.