Star-studded bash in Chechnya as strongman leader turns 35
Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov turned 35 on Wednesday, with grandiose star-studded celebrations in the formerly war-torn capital Grozny, decked with flags and portraits of the leader.
The swaggering leader, known for his highspeed motorcades and private zoo, had banned bureaucrats from celebrating his birthday on pain of being fired so instead all the events were tied to a city day holiday.
In unprecedented security measures authorities closed the main highways leading into the city on Monday and police carried out document checks on residents of all apartment blocks in the past two weeks.
International flags and banners bearing birthday wishes from residents festooned the main streets of Grozny, substantially rebuilt after two separatist wars, as Chechnya prepared to throw a concert in Kadyrov's honour later Wednesday.
Violinist Vanessa Mae was reportedly to perform at the concert at the opening of a new skyscraper complex, Grozny-City, to be televised live. Actors Kevin Costner and Jean-Claude Van Damme were also rumoured guests.
The showpiece riverside complex includes two 18-storey and one 42-storey apartment blocks, as well as a hotel and conference centre.
Colombian singer Shakira, known for hits such as "Hips don't lie," was reportedly hired to perform for the celebrations, but she denied this on Twitter, saying she had never received any such commission.
However, Kadyrov claimed in a live televised interview on Tuesday that human rights activists had warned Shakira against coming.
"Rights activists wrote a letter to Shakira telling her not to come to us, because the authorities here kill people, human rights are breached here. Only enemies of the people could write this," he said in typically belligerent rhetoric.
Kadyrov, a former insurgent, took power in Chechnya after his father, Akhmat Kadyrov, was killed in a bomb blast in 2004.
Kremlin advisor Murat Zyazikov passed on birthday wishes to Kadyrov in Kommersant broadsheet, praising him for "establishing peace and order on the beautiful Chechen soil."
Human rights activists, however, accuse Kadyrov of presiding over a personal militia that carries out rampant rights abuses, torture and even murder.
Such spectacular celebrations for long-serving leaders' birthdays are commonplace in the ex-Soviet Union.
This year, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev invited British pop star Sting to perform at celebrations on his 71st birthday, which were also formally linked to a city day.
Sting pulled out at the last moment at the instigation of Amnesty International campaign group, citing violations of the rights of striking workers.
© 2011 AFP