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Chechen president killing leaves power vacuum { May 10 2004 }

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Chechen president killing leaves power vacuum
Mon May 10, 2004 04:03 AM ET

By Oleg Shchedrov
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Thousands of mourners headed for the funeral of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, whose murder by separatists has left a power vacuum in the rebel province which is fighting Moscow's rule.

The 52-year-old former Muslim cleric, Moscow's recent hope in mostly Muslim Chechnya but a turncoat for Chechen rebels, was assassinated on Sunday when a bomb exploded at a ceremony in the capital Grozny to celebrate the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany.

Among the six others who died were a Reuters reporter, an eight-year-old girl, a close aide of Kadyrov and two bodyguards.

More than 50 people were wounded, including the commander of Russian forces in the region, General Valery Baranov.

Mourners flooded heavily guarded roads to Tsentoroi, the base of Kadyrov's clan 30 miles southeast of Grozny, Russian media said on Monday.

Interfax news agency said police posts were deployed every 100 metres along the 125-mile long highway crossing Chechnya from east to west to provide security for arriving guests from neighbouring provinces.

Funeral ceremonies are expected to last three days.

"Kadyrov's death has left a political vacuum in Chechnya," Russian parliamentary deputy Ramazan Abdulatipov, who in 1999 negotiated the defection of Kadyrov to the Kremlin camp, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

"It turns out that there is no one to pick up his banner."

In October 1999 Vladimir Putin, a prime minister soon to become Russian president, sent troops to end the effective independence won by Chechnya in a 1994-1996 war with Russia.

"There was a need for a new Chechen leader," Abdulatipov said. "It was clear the region would not accept a leader fully loyal to Moscow from the start and Kadyrov was the ideal choice."


During the first Chechnya war Kadyrov rose to a position of mufti, the spiritual head of the Muslim community, and announced a holy war Jihad against Russia. But later he broke with other rebel leaders, blaming them for over-reliance on foreign help.

He openly sided with the Kremlin and was soon appointed head of the Moscow-installed administration by Putin, who strived to minimise Russia's military involvement in Chechnya and encourage Chechens to solve Chechen problems.

Kadyrov proved to be an ideal instrument. He stayed loyal without seeming slavish and managed to persuade many rebel commanders and rank-and-file fighters to lay down their arms.

His son Ramzan created a powerful military force which dealt with unrepentant rebels, in many cases replacing Russian forces.

Initial reaction from Putin's camp to Kadyrov's death showed that he would find it hard to continue attempts to let Chechens run Chechnya.

Lyubov Sliska, first deputy parliamentary speaker from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, told Interfax agency she favoured introducing direct presidential rule in Chechnya. Nationalists from the Rodina (Motherland) bloc echoed this.

"I would advise the federal leadership to introduce direct presidential rule in Chechnya and appoint a plenipotentiary envoy there," Rodina leader Dmitry Rogozin said.

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