Leaders of 20 Chechen civic and human rights organizations issued a statement on 24 February condemning the referendum scheduled for 23 March on a new Chechen draft constitution and election laws, chechenpress.org reported on 25 February. They pointed to numerous alleged violations of Russian law during the preparations for the plebiscite, including the compilation of faked voter lists and the falsification of lists of residents of Chechen villagers who allegedly support the proposed referendum. They further argued that Chechnya already has a legitimately elected president and parliament. They argued that the only issue on which a referendum should be held is Chechnya's future status and then only as a result of an agreement reached during talks between the two sides to the conflict. Moreover, what they consider the minimal conditions for holding a referendum -- including a cease-fire, a halt to reprisals against civilians, the investigation of war crimes, freedom of movement and assembly for the population, media freedom, and the lifting of restrictions on political parties -- do not yet exist. LF
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