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UFO-spotting Russian chess tsar bows out as region chief

The eccentric leader of Russia’s Buddhist region of Kalmykia said he was stepping down on Tuesday, ending 17 years of rule that have seen him lead 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 also 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.

“I intend to continue working as president of FIDE and helping the development of chess,” said Ilyumzhinov.

Challenger Karpov has launched a huge drive to promote his candidacy, seeking to prove that Ilyumzhinov is too eccentric a figure to lead the sport.

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.”