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War-Torn Chechnya Prepares for Presidential Vote - 2004-08-28


Voters in Russia's breakaway region of Chechnya vote Sunday for a regional president to replace Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in a bomb attack last May. Authorities are bracing for possible attacks by separatist rebels.

Chechens will vote amid a high security alert in the wake of threats by separatist fighters to disrupt the balloting in an election they consider a sham.

The vote marks a new step by the Kremlin to try to demonstrate that all is returning to normal in Chechnya, where Russian troops have failed to suppress a decade-old fight for independence.

The election is to replace Akhmad Kadyrov, a former Muslim mufti, who was killed in a bomb attack in May when he was about to view a military parade. The overwhelming favorite to replace him is Alu Alkhanov, the current interior minister in the Moscow-backed regional government.

For months, Mr. Alkhanov has been shown on state-run television, at times meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in efforts to bolster his candidacy.

Although there are six other candidates running, most are unknowns. The only politician who was considered a realistic rival was disqualified on a technicality.

However, as far as most Chechens are concerned, it may make little difference who is in charge of a republic where rebel attacks, bombings and kidnappings are near daily occurrences.

An overnight assault in the capital, Grozny, a week ago left at least 42 people dead, many of them police and security officials.

Georgy Mirsky is an analyst at the Institute of International Relations in Moscow. He says the prognosis for Chechnya is not good.

"As long as the Chechen war continues, the perspectives are sad," he said. "The way to really change the situation principally would be to find some way out of this deadlock that now exists."

Sunday's vote comes in the shadow of the near-simultaneous crashes of two Russian airliners last Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been the work of two Chechen suicide bombers.

Investigators have found traces of an explosive in the wreckage of one of the planes. And they are looking for information about two female passengers with Chechen surnames who were on the two flights, but whose remains have not been claimed by relatives. A total of 89 people died in the crashes.

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