An estimated 540,000 registered voters are to pick their next president from a field of six candidates, but Kremlin's handpicked candidate and the separatist republic's current administrator, Ahmad Kadyrov is largely expected to win.

Three of the six candidates in the fray are Kadyrov supporters. All his serious rivals were either disqualified or persuaded to withdraw from the race.

"The people from the administration told us we'd better turn up. And for all of us here, everything depends on the administration," Usman, a local resident said.

Voters Dilemma

Chechens nevertheless are caught in a dilemma and fear that voting in the disputed elections, that the separatist fighters oppose, could bring retribution.

"The fighters will also keep an eye on us, and if we vote, we will be branded as traitors," Usman said.

Russian authorities have left little to chance.

About 15,000 soldiers and armoured personnel carriers have been deployed to guard the 425 polling stations. Sniffer-dogs are doing the rounds checking for bombs.

Police and military have cordoned off all government buildings, with no vehicles allowed to park closer than 1.5 km away.

Troops also searched all trains to Grozny. Markets and schools were shut down.

But local media reported that some polling stations have come under rebel attacks, despite the unprecedented security measures.

"The people from the administration told us we'd better turn up. And for all of us here, everything depends on the administration"

Chechen Resident



Moscow Echo radio reported two voting stations in the southeastern village of Serzhen-Yurt had been booby-trapped with mines. Another polling station in Grozny came under grenade attack.

Kremlin Plan

Sunday's election is central to Kremlin's peace efforts in the troubled region. But critics say the election is a sham, intended only to legitimise Kadyrov, the Russian President Vladimir Puntin's handpicked nominee.

The conflict in Chechnya, which has raged for four years, has bled all sides.

Russia has officially lost 5,000 soldiers - 12,000 according to human rights groups.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed. Many more have been made refugees trying to flee the fighting.

In 1997, three years after the end of the first war of liberation, Moscow signed an agreement with Chechnya's elected president Aslan Maskhadov, putting an end to the fighting and granting the want-away republic de facto independence.

But President Vladimir Putin poured troops back into the territory in 1999, setting off the current round of conflict.