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Court bars last serious challenger from Chechen poll

Thursday, 11-Sep-2003 9:32AM PDT
Story from AFP
Copyright 2003 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)

MOSCOW, Sept 11 (AFP) - The supreme court in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya on Thursday barred the last serious rival to pro-Moscow chief administrator Akhmad Kadyrov from standing in an October 5 presidential election, the banned candidate told AFP.

Businessman Malik Saidullayev blamed the court ruling on officials in the Kremlin who want to ensure a victory for Kadyrov, who has controlled the administration in the North Caucasus republic for more than three years.

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"We will appeal to the Russian Supreme Court in the next few days. We will get the explanation for the ruling tomorrow," Saidullayev told AFP by telephone.

But he added he was already certain that "the decision is the work of certain clans in the Kremlin who support Kadyrov."

Saidullayev was the main opponent to Kadyrov -- who is the favorite in the presidential race -- after the withdrawal of three other serious contenders.

One of these, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's lone deputy in Russia's lower house of parliament, announced he was quitting the race only a few hours earlier.

The October 5 election is a showpiece in the Kremlin's efforts to convince the Russian people and the world that the war it launched in the Caucasus republic four years ago is over and a political process has begun.

But critics have said it is impossible to hold a legitimate election in Chechnya, which has been shattered by the years of war and where soldiers, rebels and civilians still die nearly on a daily basis.

They have also accused the Russian government of using it to legitimise Kadyrov as Russia's figurehead in the war-torn republic.

The war has slowly bled the Russian forces of its men -- official estimates say that about 5,000 soldiers have been killed in the conflict, while rights groups estimate the number to be around 12,000.

Thousands of civilians are also believed to have died since the start of the conflict in October 1999, the second war between separatists and Russian troops in a decade.

Kadyrov, who was appointed to head the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya by President Vladimir Putin, was indirectly accused by Saidullayev on Wednesday of using murder and kidnapping to intimidate his supporters.

The candidate's team said that armed people dressed in camouflage and with portraits of Kadyrov pinned to their breast had shot dead Tuesday the son of one of Saidullayev's main election campaigners in the Chechen capital Grozny.

At dawn on Wednesday, another campaign activist of Saidullayev was abducted by gun-toting men in the western village of Sernovodskaya, the campaign headquarters, denouncing what it called a "campaign of terror and intimidation. "

An opinion survey released this week showed the vast majority of Chechens did not believe the elections would be free and fair.

Tuesday's poll said 68 percent of Chechens did not think the elections in their republic would be free or fair and 51 percent thought Kadyrov would win no matter what.