Moscow, 6 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russia today pressed ahead with plans for a constitutional referendum in war-torn Chechnya. Officials in the Chechen capital Grozny were checking the signatures needed to initiate the poll and expected to complete the count by 10 January, after which a date would be set for the referendum. A total of 13,500 signatures have been collected, more than the 12,000 officially required for the referendum to go ahead. Some 20 percent of the signatures still have to be verified.
The referendum, provisionally set for March, will formalize a constitution that will fix Chechnya's place within the Russian Federation.
Approval of the referendum will pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections in the breakaway republic in late 2003 or early 2004.