Chechen presidential campaign begins

Chechnya's presidential election campaign has officially started amid controversy as police reportedly cordonned off a television station in the war-ravaged country.

    Akhmad Kadyrov (R) is the Kremlin's preferred candidate for Chechen president

    Chechen interior ministry troops surrounded the station's

    headquarters in the capital, Grozny, on Friday


    "Journalists could not take equipment out of the building, so

    therefore they could not film or prepare the news," a source at the

    station said.

    Friday marks exactly a month before the poll in the Muslim

    Caucasus republic, and the start of the Kremlin's efforts to

    convince the world the war in Chechnya

     is finally over.

    Pro-Russiain candidates

    Although 10 candidates are registered for the poll, only three

    are considered to have a realistic shot at the post.

    These are Akhmad Kadyrov, who heads the pro-Moscow

    administration in Chechnya; Malik Saidullayev, a Moscow businessman;

    and Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's deputy in Russia's lower house

    of parliament.

    Kadyrov is considered the favourite because he has controlled the

    administration for more than three

    years, following his appointment to the post by President Vladimir


    He is also thought to be implicitly backed by the Kremlin.

    Poll concerns

    In Russian-controlled Chechnya, control over government structures

    can count more in an election than popularity among the voters.

    Controls ensuring fair elections are less than foolproof -

    during a referendum in March, foreign reporters were

    able to cast ballots in a poll that produced a result

    of 85% turnout and 96% approval.

    At the popular level, many Chechens dislike Kadyrov, saying the

    former rebel and mufti has done nothing to improve their lives since

    assuming power.

    In a July opinion poll, Kadyrov trailed his main opponents, with

    only 13% of those questioned saying they would vote for him.

    At least 5000 Russian soldiers
    have been killed in the Chechen



    compared with 23% who would vote for Saidullayev and 22%

    for Aslakhanov.

    But during his years in power, Kadyrov has developed an impressive,

    armed "security service" that official estimates put at around 250

    men and unofficial estimates put at nearly 5000.

    Reports have swept Chechnya lately that "Kadyrov's men" have

    threatened people with force unless they voted for their candidate.

    Spokesmen for Kadyrov have categorically denied such


    Whatever the case, many in Chechnya

    fear a Kadyrov loss on October 5 will result in more bloodshed

    as his supporters refuse to recognise the winner.

    Resistance attacks

    Kadyrov's strongest challenger is generally considered to be

    Saidullayev, a millionaire who is known for running several aid

    projects for the thousands of Chechen refugees who fled the republic

    after the Russian troops invaded in 1999.

    The presidential election is a key element in the Kremlin's

    peace plan for the region.

    President Putin launched the current

    war in 1999 and the Kremlin is keen to show

    that the war is over before Putin faces re-election next March.

    But such efforts have been belied by daily resistance

    attacks on Russian targets, both within Chechnya

    and throughout Russia.



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