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Chechnya's leader tightens grip on power

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  • radiebunn
    GROZNY, Russia (AP) February 28, 2009 — The bullnecked president of Chechnya emerged from afternoon prayers at the mosque and with chilling composure
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2009
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      GROZNY, Russia (AP) February 28, 2009 — The bullnecked president of
      Chechnya emerged from afternoon prayers at the mosque and with
      chilling composure explained why seven young women who had been shot
      in the head deserved to die.

      Ramzan Kadyrov said the women, whose bodies were found dumped by the
      roadside, had "loose morals" and were rightfully shot by male
      relatives in honor killings.

      "If a woman runs around and if a man runs around with her, both of
      them are killed," Kadyrov told journalists in the capital of this
      Russian republic.

      The 32-year-old former militia leader is carrying out a campaign to
      impose Islamic values and strengthen the traditional customs of
      predominantly Muslim Chechnya, in an effort to blunt the appeal of
      hardline Islamic separatists and shore up his power. In doing so,
      critics say, he is setting up a dictatorship where Russian laws do not
      apply.

      Some in Russia say Kadyrov's attempt to create an Islamic society
      violates the Russian constitution, which guarantees equal rights for
      women and a separation of church and state. But the Kremlin has given
      him its staunch backing, seeing him as the key to keeping the
      separatists in check, and that has allowed him to impose his will.

      "Kadyrov willfully tries to increase the influence of local customs
      over the life of the republic because this makes him the absolute
      ruler of the republic," said Yulia Latynina, a political analyst in
      Moscow.

      Kadyrov's bluster shows how confident he is of his position. "No one
      can tell us not to be Muslims," he said outside the mosque. "If anyone
      says I cannot be a Muslim, he is my enemy."

      Few dare to challenge Kadyrov's rule in this southern Russian region
      of more than a million people, which is only now emerging from the
      devastation of two wars in the past 15 years. The fighting between
      Islamic separatists and Russian troops, compounded by atrocities on
      both sides, claimed tens of thousands of lives and terrorized civilians.

      Kadyrov describes women as the property of their husbands and says
      their main role is to bear children. He encourages men to take more
      than one wife, even though polygamy is illegal in Russia. Women and
      girls are now required to wear headscarves in all schools,
      universities and government offices.


      Rights activists fear that Kadyrov's approval of honor killings may
      encourage men to carry them out. Honor killings are considered part of
      Chechen tradition. No records are kept, but human rights activists
      estimate dozens of women are killed every year.

      "What the president says is law," said Gistam Sakaeva, a Chechen
      activist who works to defend women's rights. "Because the president
      said this, many will try to gain his favor by killing someone, even if
      there is no reason."

      Sakaeva also said she worried that Chechen authorities would now be
      less willing to prosecute men suspected of killing women.

      Kadyrov inherited his position from his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, a
      Muslim cleric and former rebel commander who fought the Russians
      during Chechnya's war of independence in 1994-1996. Shortly after war
      broke out again in 1999, the elder Kadyrov switched sides and brought
      Chechnya back into Moscow's fold.

      Ramzan Kadyrov worked as the head of his father's security force,
      which was accused of kidnapping, sadistic torture and murder. After
      Akhmad Kadyrov was killed by a terrorist bomb in 2004, power passed to
      his son.

      Vladimir Putin, then president and now prime minister, embraced the
      younger Kadyrov, who has succeeded in ending a wave of terror attacks
      that haunted the early years of Putin's presidency. But as Kadyrov has
      consolidated his power, many of his critics and political rivals have
      been killed. Some have been gunned down on the streets of Moscow,
      including journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose death in 2006 shocked
      the world.

      In one of the most recent killings, a Chechen who had accused Kadyrov
      of personally torturing him was shot last month as he walked out of a
      grocery store in Vienna, Austria.

      Kadyrov has denied any involvement in the killings.

      The Kremlin appears willing to continue allowing Kadyrov to rule as he
      wishes, as long as he prevents another outbreak of violence. And
      Kadyrov has won the grudging respect of many Chechens for bringing a
      measure of peace and stability.

      "People want to believe that things are getting better," said Sakaeva.
      "They are tired of war."
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