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Russia: Chechen Presidential Campaign Heats Up

By Michael Sokolov

Grozny, 21 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Chechnya's presidential campaign took a bitter turn yesterday when leading contender Shamil Basayev launched a sharply worded attack on two of his main rivals.

Basayev called separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and former separatist commander Aslan Maskhadov "crooks." He told a rally in the Chechen capital of Grozny that he was not prepared to work with either man to rebuild the war-torn republic.

Maskhadov's press secretary dismissed Basayev's statement. The poll is scheduled for next Monday.

Earlier, Basayev said that if he is elected, his first official act will be to proclaim Chechnya's independence from Russia. This prompted the deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, Boris Berezovsky, to say today that Russian authorities will find it "impossible" to negotiate with Basayev if he become's Chechnya's president.

Basayev, a top field commander, led a hostage-taking operation in the southern Russian city of Budennovsk in the summer of 1995. The operation led to the deaths of more than 100 people. Berezovsky told RFE/RL in Moscow that "in the eyes of many people, Basayev is a terrorist and therefore cannot become a negotiating partner."