Russia

Chechen President appeals to the people

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In an address dated 27 February and posted on chechenpress.com, Aslan Maskhadov criticized the planned 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution and election laws as an attempt by the Russian leadership to undermine the foundations of Chechnya's sovereignty, discredit its legally elected president and parliament, and divide the Chechen people. He affirmed that Russia will never succeed in forcing the Chechens to acknowledge its domination over them. He appealed to the Chechen people to "close ranks at this difficult hour and show clearly that there is no alternative" to an independent Chechen state. LF
...AS DOES PARLIAMENT

Also on 27 February, the Chechen parliament elected in 1997 issued a parallel appeal to "voters and all those citizens of the republic to whom the honor and dignity of our people are dear" to "demonstrate political maturity" and reject attempts to undermine the foundations of Chechnya's independence, for which so many thousands have died, chechenpress.com reported. The statement rejects what it terms a joint attempt by Russia and the West to elevate the "right of might" over human rights. It argues that neither a referendum nor elections can take place "where the blood of children, women, and elderly people is being spilled." It calls on Chechen citizens to demonstrate unity, stressing that "our objective is not enmity with [other] peoples, including the Russians, but prosperity and security for our citizens." The statement concludes that "under the current circumstances a referendum is a crime without statute of limitation." LF

OSCE ASSESSES PREPARATIONS FOR CHECHEN REFERENDUM

Accompanied by Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, a group of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) experts traveled to Grozny on 1 March to assess preparations for the 23 March referendum, Russian news agencies reported. The previous day, Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov said in Grozny that preparations for the plebiscite are 85-90 percent complete, Interfax reported. He said that buildings that are to be used either as polling stations or as local election headquarters are already under guard. Ballot papers and equipment will be transported to polling stations within the next few days, Arsakhanov said. LF

KREMLIN OFFICIAL ENVISAGES 'BROADEST AUTONOMY' FOR CHECHNYA

Russian presidential administration deputy head Vladislav Surkov told members of the Chechen administration in Grozny on 28 February that the planned 23 March referendum is the first step toward formalizing Chechnya's statehood, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that under a future agreement between the federal and Chechen authorities, Chechnya could be granted "the broadest autonomy" within the Russian Federation. That agreement would also provide for the most flexible form of coexistence and cooperation. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told Interfax on 1 March that Surkov's remarks demolish the argument that Moscow seeks to deprive the Chechen people of their statehood. He added that "broad autonomy" would accelerate the revival of the Chechen economy and help to create thousands of new jobs. Kadyrov also noted that the new Chechen constitution does not in any way contradict the constitution of the Russian Federation. LF

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