UFO-spotting chess tsar quits as Russia region chief

7th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The eccentric leader of Russia's Buddhist region of Kalmykia on Tuesday said he was resigning, ending a 17-year rule that have seen him rise to the top of world chess and claim meetings with aliens.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said he would not seek another term as president of Kalmykia, the world's westernmost Buddhist region, when his current mandate runs out on October 24.

Chess-mad Ilyumzhinov, 48, has built an ambitious complex devoted to chess called "Chess City" in his region's dusty capital Elista. He has also served as head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) since 1995.

But he has earned notoriety for his bizarre claims of close encounters with extraterrestrials, including with aliens who arrived in a UFO at his luxury Moscow apartment.

Ilyumzhinov said he was stepping down in line with the policy of President Dmitry Medvedev to reshuffle Russia's powerful regional leaders which has already seen several regional strongmen step down this year.

"My fourth term expires on October 24 and I do not intend to stand for a fifth term," Ilyumzhinov told the Interfax news agency.

"I do not intend to leave Kalmykia and will continue to work for the benefit of my people," he said, adding he would also try to organise a visit by the Dalai Lama to the region.

Ilyumzhinov's resignation comes at a time when he has been locked in a bitter power struggle with former world champion and Soviet chess legend Anatoly Karpov for the FIDE presidency.

Both men have claimed the nomination of Russia for the post, paving the way for an almighty battle at the FIDE elections due on September 29 in the Russian Urals city of Khanty-Mansiysk.

"Now I will use all my energy and my 20-year political experience for the development of chess," said Ilyumzhinov.

"I love chess, live for chess and breathe chess. I am happy that I can give all my strength to develop and popularise the wise game."

Challenger Karpov has launched a huge drive to promote his candidacy, seeking to prove that Ilyumzhinov is too eccentric to lead the sport and visiting far-flung areas like the Faroe Islands to snare delegates' votes.

Both have launched US presidential-style websites (www.onefide.com and www.karpov2010.org) to back their bids and fling mud at their opponents.

In an interview broadcast in late April, Ilyumzhinov said aliens appeared in a transparent tube on the balcony of his apartment in Moscow. "I was reading my book, watching television and had almost fallen asleep. Then I felt that someone was calling."

Karpov's campaign said that Ilyumzhinov's remarks had done "considerable damage to the reputation of FIDE and chess".

"The world press laughed for weeks at his stories of men in yellow spacesuits and at the chess world's humiliation."

Medvedev's reshuffle of regional leaders, effectively appointed by the Kremlin after elections were scrapped in 2004, has already seen the departure of the chiefs of powerful energy-rich regions like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

The Vedomosti daily said that ruling party United Russia was looking at a half dozen candidates to succeed Ilyumzhinov, all of them ethnic Kalmyks.

Ilyumzhinov, who has always shown strong loyalty to the Kremlin, said in his statement that he would support any candidate proposed by United Russia.

Under the current procedure for regional leaders, the ruling party selects three or four candidates, one of whom is then chosen by Medvedev and submitted to the regional parliament for final approval.

© 2010 AFP

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