Kremlin-backed eccentric re-elected world chess supremo

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The controversial Kremlin-backed supremo of world chess who has claimed to have met aliens won a new term on Wednesday after seeing off a challenge from former world champion Anatoly Karpov.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, was overwhelmingly re-elected head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) after a fierce power struggle with Karpov marked by bitter personal accusations and allegations of election violations.

Ilyumzhinov won 95 votes from delegates representing national chess federations at the body's congress in the Russian Urals city of Khanty-Mansiysk, while Karpov could only muster 55, Russian news agencies reported.

The eccentric Ilyumzhinov is one of the most controversial figures in the history of chess. His opponents say he has exposed the game to ridicule by claiming to have met aliens and even to have been shown round a UFO.

He has held the post of FIDE president since 1995 and has been strongly backed by the Kremlin in the shape of Arkady Dvorkovich, the head of the Russian Chess Federation's supervisory board, who is also chief economic advisor of President Dmitry Medvedev.

Ilyumzhinov earlier this month stepped down from his post as president of the Russian Buddhist region of Kalmykia after 17-year rule that saw him build an ambitious "Chess City" in the dusty regional capital Elista.

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".

Ironically, while Russia officially nominated Ilyumzhinov, it was the United States who nominated Karpov, the Soviet-era world champion famous for grinding his opponents into submission with his patient tactics.

In another irony, Karpov's once greatest rival Garry Kasparov, now a vehement Kremlin critic, flew to Khanty-Mansiysk to back the candidacy of his former arch-foe.

Their legendary five-month long World Championship clash in Moscow in 1984 was abandoned without a result, with officials fearing for the health of both players.

Kasparov told the Russian news agencies at the meeting that voting was being marred by violations involving proxy votes and pressure on African federation members.

"Anatoly Karpov is used to playing by the rules but what we are being offered is card-sharping," he said.

He also accused Ilyumzhinov of reducing the prestige of chess under his rule.

"At the time of the Kasparov-Karpov duels, the capitals of chess were Paris and New York. And now they are Nalchik, Astrakhan and Elista," he said, referring to provincial southern Russian cities.

Ilyumzhinov's team had been confident of victory after their candidate visited an extraordinary 40 countries in the run-up to the vote in a US-presidential style campaign.

© 2010 AFP

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