Chechen leader starts new term with lavish ceremony

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Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov was sworn in Tuesday as the chief of Russia's Caucasus region Chechnya in a unusually lavish ceremony that showered the controversial strongman with praise fit for a king.

Set on a red stage against the background of huge Russian flags, the event held in capital Grozny was attended by at least a thousand people with speeches aired on state television for over an hour.

Kadyrov, who was reappointed by President Dmitry Medvedev to the post in late February, took the oath wearing a blue suit adorned with medals.

He interposed the promise to "make our region into one of the best Russian regions" with remarks in the Chechen language ending the speech with 'Allahu Akbar!'

The camera hovered over the audience seated in the giant auditorium which clearly surpassed that of all other inaugurations for leaders of Russia's regions, including that of Moscow's mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

The crowd, many of whom of which was wearing turbans, traditional Karakul hats or military uniforms, included heads of other Caucasus regions, religious leaders and parliamentary leaders from Moscow.

"Today there are celebrations in every quarter of Chechnya, there are competitions and horse races," said the presenter. "Long live Chechnya! Long live Ramzan!"

Although neither President Dmitry Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were present at the inauguration, they sent congratulatory telegrams. So did Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, the only foreign leader to do so.

Kadyrov, 34, came to lead the restive region in 2004 and succeeded the rule of his father Akhmad who was killed by Chechen separatists.

He has been accused by rights groups of several murders and disappearances and earned the title of "predator of the press" from the rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

He has been linked to murders of Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya and rights activist Natalia Estemirova although vehemently denies any involvement.

The Kremlin has been fighting insurgents in the Caucasus region since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, waging a war in 1994-1996 against separatist rebels in Chechnya.

Although the war ended in 2000, rebels have waged an increasingly deadly insurgency with unrest spreading into other areas of the North Caucasus, notably Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria.

© 2011 AFP

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