Chechnya: Prime Minister Steps Down
The Kremlin-backed prime minister of war-battered Chechnya said Tuesday he was stepping down to give way to the widely feared head of a shadowy security service, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
The news confirmed perceptions that deputy prime minister and local strongman Ramzan Kadyrov was consolidating power ahead of an expected move into the presidency.
Outgoing prime minister Sergei Abramov and Chechnya's president offered conflicting explanations for Abramov's stepping down, raising questions about a possible power struggle within the Moscow-backed administration of Chechyna, where separatist rebels have fought Russian troops for most of the past dozen years.
Chechen President Alu Alkhanov said Tuesday that the prime minister was stepping down for health reasons. But hours later, Abramov said he was stepping down to give way to Kadyrov, the son of a Chechen president who was assassinated after winning a Kremlin-approved election that was widely regarded as fraudulent.
Expectations have been high that Kadyrov would succeed Alkhanov on Oct. 5 when he turned 30, the minimum age for a president under Chechen law. Taking over the prime minister's job would be a stepping stone to the presidency, which Alkhanov is supposed to occupy for several more years.
"The decision of Sergei Abramov to leave his post as
head of the republic's government was an unpleasant surprise for me," Kadyrov
said in a statement Tuesday. "I regret it because (he) ... did much for
the restoration of the republic."
Abramov denied the president's explanation of his resignation.
"I was surprised to learn that my resignation was connected with my health. It's not so," the news agency quoted him as saying. "I submitted the statement about my resignation on Monday on condition that the government of the Chechen Republic would appoint the current deputy prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov."
The Interfax news agency quoted the head of the Chechen parliament as saying it fully supports Kadyrov becoming prime minister.
There are wide reports in Chechnya of civilians being kidnapped or improperly detained by security forces, and allegations that police torture suspects to extract confessions. Chechens and human rights group say Kadyrov's security forces are responsible for human rights violations.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour told reporters in Moscow last week that abuse by security forces is the central problem holding back the restoration of civil society in Chechnya.
Abramov was named prime minister in March 2004 and survived
an assassination attempt several months later.
The prime minister was seriously injured in November in a car accident. There was wide speculation that the accident was an assassination attempt. Officials dismissed the prospect.
Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 following a two-year botched war, but rolled back in 1999 after Chechen incursions into a neighboring province, and apartment building explosions blamed on the rebels.
Major offensives in Chechnya ended by mid-2000 but insurgents and troops still clash in small skirmishes. Separatists attack Russian troops and law-enforcement officers with booby-traps and land mines.