Chechen Parliament Confirms Putin Choice for President

Chechnya's parliament approved a widely feared former security chief as president of the war-battered Russian republic in a nearly unanimous vote Friday, a day after President Vladimir Putin nominated him.

The confirmation of Ramzan Kadyrov, which had been seen as a foregone conclusion, cements his rise to power. His nomination won 56 votes in the 58-member, two-chamber legislature, with two ballots ruled invalid.

Human rights groups allege that security forces under Kadyrov's control abduct and torture civilians suspected of ties to Chechnya's separatist rebels. Some observers suggest he was tied to last year's murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who had reported extensively on Chechnya's wars and sufferings. Kadyrov has denied any involvement.

Kadyrov also is credited with a reconstruction boom that he administered as the region's prime minister, under which the capital, Grozny, is being transformed from a moonscape of rubble and shattered buildings in a region devastated by two separatist wars since the Soviet collapse.

Kadyrov has been at the heart of a Kremlin strategy to crush continued rebel resistance and establish order in the mostly Muslim region. He turned 30 in October, the minimum age for president, and had been expected to seek the job.

He became acting president after last week's dismissal of Alu Alkhanov, who had increasingly criticized Kadyrov.

Kadyrov is the son of Chechnya's first pro-Moscow president, Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in 2004. The elder Kadyrov became president in 2003 in a Kremlin-conducted aimed at undermining rebels by creating the image of Chechens being allowed a high degree of self-determination.

As prime minister, the younger Kadyrov led a largely federally funded campaign to rebuild the region. Two wars in the past dozen years between Russian forces and separatist rebels who increasingly voiced militant Islamic ideology left much of the republic in ruins and its people gripped by fear and resentment.

Major offensives died down early this decade, but small clashes continue and rebels attack Russian forces with booby-traps and remotely detonated explosives.

Construction and repairs have transformed the capital, Grozny, and the second-largest city, Gudermes. Buildings have been plastered with banners praising Kadyrov and his late father, part of a personality cult he claims to oppose.

But prominent Russian groups boycotted a human rights conference in Grozny this week, saying that attending would lend his government legitimacy. Council of Europe human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, who was at the conference, said Friday that Chechnya continues to be plagued by allegations of torture and by officials' failure to respond to families seeking information about missing relatives.

Hammarberg declined to comment when asked for his opinion on Kadyrov as president and he did not point to Kadyrov's forces as responsible for abuses.

Of the detainees whom he interviewed in Chechnya that complained of torture, "several of them pointed at the activities of the federal police," he said in Moscow.

He recommended that Chechnya set up a "truth commission" similar to those in Latin American countries to try to bring those responsible for abuses to light.

Analysts say Putin has entrusted Kadyrov with power in part because he is seen as the only person who can keep large numbers of former rebels under control. Many former rebels now serve in the police and security forces.

But his growing clout is also seen as a risk for the Kremlin, particularly after Putin steps down at the end of his second term next year. Some see Kadyrov's loyalty to Russia as closely tied to his relationship with Putin.

Kadyrov has repeatedly praised Putin but has criticized the Russian government and the state-run oil company OAO Rosneft, calling for greater economic freedom for Chechnya and for a larger share of its oil revenues.

Analysts say that with the power to foment new turmoil in fragile Chechnya and create serious problems for Russia, he could take a more demanding stance if his relations with the Kremlin become clouded.

The first war between rebels and Moscow's forces began in December 1994 and ended 20 months later with a humiliating Russian withdrawal after rebels fought them to standstill. Three years of de-facto independence followed, during which Chechnya became notoriously lawless, plagued by kidnappings and increasingly influenced by militant Islam.

Fighting resumed in 1999 after Chechen insurgents invaded neighboring Dagestan, apparently aiming to set up an Islamic caliphate, and after some 300 people were killed in apartment bombings that Russian authorities blamed on the rebels.

Chechen rebels have been involved in most of the terrorist attacks that have plagued Russia for more than a decade.