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Moscow Hopes Upcoming Chechnya Election Helps Restore Stability - 2003-10-04

Moscow is portraying Sunday's presidential election in Chechnya as a major step toward stability in the war-torn republic. But there are doubts that the vote will help to restore civil life in the area.

Seven candidates are running to become the new president of Chechnya. Six of them are little known, and the seventh, Kremlin appointee Akhmad Kadyrov, is seen as the likely winner of Sunday's vote.

Both the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have refused to monitor the vote because of security concerns.

Human rights activists say the election will bring little improvement to the situation in the province.

Shortly before the balloting, two strong challengers to Mr. Kadyrov left the race. Aslambek Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the Russian parliament, dropped out to take the job as Russian President Vladimir Putin's advisor. Malik Saidullayev, who was seen as the top contender, was barred from running by the Chechen supreme court.

Mr. Kadyrov enjoys little popularity in Chechnya, partly because of his close ties with the Kremlin as well as his personal security service, headed by his son, which is widely feared.

Last week, Mr. Kadyrov said his victory, if it comes, would unlikely bring an end to the decade-long war. "We have a long time still to fight with the bandits. In five years, I don't think we'll be going out for walks at night."

Over the last four years, the conflict between Russian troops and Chechen rebels has claimed thousands of lives. The fighting has left much of Chechnya in ruins.

On election day, around 16,000 police officers will be on guard at 425 polling stations throughout the republic.

In a move aimed at staving off terrorist attacks, truck traffic has been banned in Chechnya, until the vote ends on Sunday.