Kremlin appointee Akhmad Kadyrov appears poised to win Sunday's presidential election in separatist Chechnya. Russian election officials say first results show Mr. Kadyrov has what they call an absolute and unbeatable lead. With more than half the votes counted, electoral officials say Mr. Kadyrov won just over 80 percent of the vote for president.

The head of the election commission in the southern Russian republic says that while official, final results are still due to come, he is sure none of the other six candidates will be able to overtake Mr. Kadyrov's lead.

Voter turnout was said to have exceeded 80 percent, a figure that raised immediate doubt among journalists on the scene, who said the number of voters appeared relatively low.

The results come as no surprise to critics, who have dismissed the election as a farce, skewed in Mr. Kadyrov's favor. In the final weeks leading up to the vote, the remaining challengers with any real chance of beating Mr. Kadyrov either dropped out of, or were removed from, the race.

Western observers and human rights group boycotted the poll, saying they did not want to appear to be legitimizing a vote being held in a war zone. That left election observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, grouping 12 former Soviet republics, to declare the election valid.

Analysts say the real test was never about who was to lead Chechnya, but about whether the violence can be stopped. A pro-rebel computer website in Chechnya quotes rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov as saying he will never accept the outcome of Sunday's vote, which he considers illegal.

The separatists have vowed to continue their nearly 10-year struggle for independence from Russia, no matter who becomes Chechnya's next president.