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Kadyrov sworn in as Chechen president

Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has been sworn in as Chechnya's President.

world Updated: Apr 05, 2007 17:56 IST

Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov was sworn in as Chechnya's president on Thursday in a ceremony celebrating his domination of the war-torn southern province.

With his right hand on Chechnya's constitution, Kadyrov took the oath of office in the commercial town of Gudermes, rather than the battle-scarred capital Grozny.

He vowed to respect human rights and "truly serve the people and respect Chechnya's constitution," before waving the banner of Chechnya's armed forces over his head.

Schoolchildren at the ceremony wore T-shirts bearing portraits of a smiling Kadyrov.

Security was tight across the province, with police stationed at 100-metre (-yard) intervals along main roads. Portraits of Kadyrov hung from buildings, together with slogans praising him.

Kadyrov was prime minister before President Vladimir Putin nominated him for Chechnya's top post when he turned 30, the minimum age for holding the presidency.

Located between the Caspian and Black Seas in the Caucasus mountains, Chechnya has long been a symbol of resistance to Moscow, fighting wars for independence from 1994-1996 and again from 1999.

Recognisable by his tufty beard and low-slung tie, Kadyrov has been in de facto control since his father, former Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov, was killed in a 2004 bomb attack.

Among the Chechen population he is both feared and respected.

Human rights organisations accuse him of personal involvement in disappearances and torture, some of the latter allegedly inflicted at a private prison at his home in Tsenteroi.

At the same time he has pleased Moscow by sharply reducing rebel activity through a policy of enticing or forcing thousands of fighters to join official Chechen police and paramilitary units.

He has also built support among ordinary Chechens, overseeing a massive Moscow-backed rebuilding programme. In the process Grozny's main street and square have been renamed after his father, contributing to a burgeoning personality cult around the family. On Wednesday, in the build-up to the ceremonies, Chechen security forces killed a leading rebel, Suleiman Imurzayev, otherwise known as Khairulla, in an operation personally planned by Kadyrov in Chechnya's Vedeno district, Russian media reported.

Kommersant newspaper quoted an unnamed prosecution official as saying that Imurzayev had been shot in the stomach several times at close range, followed by a "control shot" to the head, casting doubt on the official claim that he had been killed fighting. Also ahead of the inauguration Kadyrov visited the Islamic holy city of Mecca, polishing the image he has cultivated as a devout Muslim.

And on Wednesday Kadyrov received a medal from the obscure Ukraine-based International Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, which claims former UN secretary general Kofi Annan is a member.

Moscow's two wars to regain control of the region have killed as many as 100,000 civilians out of a population of one million as well as, according to official figures, 10,000 Russian soldiers.

Kadyrov's inauguration does not mean the end of Chechnya's troubles, and the possibility of conflict with Moscow remains, said analyst Alexei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Centre.

Moscow "does not trust him, especially his law enforcement forces.... If Russian troops leave the republic, he will do as he pleases," Malashenko said.

In Grozny, Zainap Mezhidova, the head of an organisation of mothers of people believed abducted during the latest Russian campaign in Chechnya, said she had seen no improvements under Kadyrov.

"Those close to the authorities are well treated," she said, but without any family connections "it's impossible even to find work without paying for it."