Chechnya inaugurated its new president
( AP ) - The widely feared strongman Ramzan Kadyrov was inaugurated Thursday as the new president of Chechnya on a blessing from the Kremlin, which has relied on him to stabilize the region after more than a decade of separatist fighting.
Human rights groups allege that security forces under Kadyrov's control abduct and torture civilians suspected of ties to Chechnya's separatist rebels. Some 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 involvement.
Kadyrov, however, 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.
"My main goal is to make Chechnya prosperous and peaceful," Kadyrov said at the inauguration ceremony.
Kadyrov, 30, 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 vote aimed at undermining rebels by creating the image of Chechens being allowed a high degree of self-determination.
Kadyrov became acting president in February when Russia's President Vladimir Putin dismissed his predecessor Alu Alkhanov. The regional parliament quickly sealed the nomination with a near-unanimous vote. Alkhanov was elected, but changes in Russian law called for all regional leaders to be appointed.
The reconstruction program has been at the heart of a Kremlin strategy to crush rebels, but critics say the alleged abuses by Kadyrov's paramilitary forces and by Russian and Chechen police and soldiers severely undermine attempts to bring order to Chechnya.
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, because some see his loyalty to Russia as being closely tied to his relationship with Putin.
Two wars over 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 remote-detonated explosives.