"None of the deputies who lives on the territory of Chechnya and Ingushetia has signed a document relieving Aslan Maskhadov of his duties," said deputy Ibragim Akhmatov on Sunday.

Akhmatov was referring to claims made in Moscow earlier this month by the vice president of the Chechen parliament, Issa Temirov.

Temirov said Chechen deputies had appealed to the republic's supreme court to impeach Maskhadov. He said a judge agreed with the move, which was immediately hailed by a Kremlin that refused to recognise Maskhadov's rule.

The Chechen parliament, elected in 1997, has been all but non-existent since Russian troops poured into the predominantly Muslim republic in the north Caucasus to stamp out a rebellion in October 1999 - a campaign described as an "anti-terrorist" operation.

But the claims and counter-claims show that Maskhadov, who is believed to be hiding in the Chechen mountains, still enjoys some support among Chechen officials, even as the Kremlin fights to show that he no longer holds any sway.

New elections

Moscow has called for a presidential election in Chechnya to be held on 5 October as part of a political peace process in the region.

Chaos has reigned after Russia
re-invaded the republic in 1999

It backs the head of the pro-Russian administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, who is disliked by many locals and remains the rebels' public enemy number one.
 
Maskhadov, who is not taking part in the vote, was elected to a five-year term in 1997 after the republic won de facto independence from Russia, following a brutal 1994-96 war.

That vote was recognised as valid by both Moscow and Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Akhmatov said at least 27 of the 48 surviving members of the Chechen parliament did not sign a petition to impeach Maskhadov.

But his comments are hard to confirm independently, as movement for journalists in Chechnya is restricted and communication is difficult.