MOSCOW - Taking a page from Donald Trump, Chechnya's authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov is starring on reality TV to search for an assistant.
Russian state television Rossiya on Wednesday broadcast the first episode of "The Team" — modeled on Trump's "The Apprentice" — in which 16 contestants are competing to become an assistant to the Chechen strongman.
In his first task for the contestants, Kadyrov "allocated" 3,000 people, mostly women wearing headscarves, to each team with the challenge of organizing them to depict the name of their team at a soccer arena.
Kadyrov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, won re-election as Chechnya's leader last month with almost 98 percent of the vote. Kadyrov has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations including murders and forced disappearances. He has denied these claims.
Rossiya opened Wednesday's episode by showing camouflage-clad Kadyrov hiking in the Caucasus mountains and reminiscing about the 1990s when he and his late father fought in the mountain forests against Russian federal troops.
"There used to be a machine gun, an automatic rifle or a grenade launcher; now I have this cane," Kadyrov said, showing off the cane he carries on mountain hikes.
The contestants, men and women mostly from non-Muslim regions of Russia, were given rooms in a guest house at lavish grounds where Kadyrov's own residence is situated.
Kadyrov's own strict Islamic rule made sure women did not occupy senior government positions. Despite Chechnya being part of an officially secular Russia, all Chechen women began to wear headscarves several years ago after Kadyrov turned into a devout Muslim.
Asked by a female contestant what chances she has to get a leadership position in Chechnya, Kadyrov replied: "The woman is a housewife." The contestant was later shown confessing on camera: "I was going to follow it up by asking: So why did you invite women to participate?"
Chechens still account for the majority of Russian nationals seeking asylum in Europe although the second war in Chechnya finished more than 15 years ago. Poland last week denied entry to a group of Chechens as the country was sealing its border.
Human Rights Watch in its August report said Chechen authorities were "tyrannizing critics and anyone whose total loyalty to the local (Chechen) leadership they think is questionable."