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Putin-backed strongman appointed Chechen PM

Written by: Staff

GROZNY, Russia, March 4 (Reuters) Ramzan Kadyrov, a strongman accused of mass human rights abuses, was appointed head of Chechnya's pro-Moscow government today.

Kadyrov heads a militia that rights groups accuse of feeding the cycle of violence in Chechnya. His appointment as Prime Minister puts the resources of the state behind him and analysts predicted a descent into ''gangster politics''.

Parliament in the turbulent region unanimously approved Kadyrov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and the dominant figure among Chechens who stand for ties with Moscow. He was put forward by regional president Alu Alkhanov.

''I can die a happy man knowing I have such support. I did not know so many people supported me,'' said Kadyrov. The Chechen parliament has been packed with his allies since its formation last year.

''Do not hurry me, because I have little experience and I might make mistakes ... We must work together. Anyone who doesn't want to work should just go home,'' he said.

The Kremlin says Chechnya is returning to normal and the 11-year war that has killed tens of thousands of Chechens is all but over.

But clashes erupt daily, with media reporting on Saturday three soldiers killed in a firefight with rebels.

Kadyrov replaces Sergei Abramov, an economist who resigned after being injured in a car crash. His appointment breaks an unwritten rule that the Prime Minister should be an ethnic Russian, a convention that had previously prevented Kadyrov's clan from gaining a monopoly on power.

Kadyrov, whose father Akhmad was President of Chechnya until his assassination in 2004, heads an irregular army of thousands of former rebels -- called the ''Kadyrovtsy'' -- key to Moscow's efforts to safeguard its rule over the southern region.

ABUSE Rights activists who work in Chechnya say the Kadyrovtsy abuse their powers to crush any rivals to the new prime minister, driving a cycle of escalating violence.

''He has already had plenty of time to impose order, but he has not done this. He has no qualifications, all he has is total power, and no one should have that,'' said Svetlana Gannushkina of the Moscow-based rights group Memorial.

Memorial has branches all over the country and monitors disappearances and murders on much of Chechen territory and blames most of them on the Kadyrovtsy acting with impunity.

''I am very sad about this. ... This will bring nothing good to Chechnya. Lawlessness, more lawlessness, more chaos,'' said Gannushkina.

Kadyrov has been acting as prime minister since Abramov's accident in November, and rapidly put his personal stamp on the post by pushing through a series of Islamic decrees -- a marked contrast to the secular Muscovite Abramov.

He banned gambling halls, cracked down on alcohol sales, backed polygamy and persuaded pro-Moscow clerics to declare jihad on the armed rebels.

''With Kremlin support, Kadyrov can rule Chechnya any way he pleases, especially since Alkhanov, who is responsible mainly for legislative initiatives and external relations, does not have the political will to oppose Kadyrov,'' said global security consulting firm Stratfor.

''With Kadyrov and his posse acquiring additional legitimacy and the machinery of state, Chechnya can be expected to descend further into gangster politics, oppressive laws and militant activities.'' REUTERS PG PM1803

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