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Chechen Election Officials Declare Presidential Vote Valid

29 August 2004 -- Election officials in Chechnya have said that today's presidential poll is valid, saying that 43 percent of voters have cast ballots.

Necessary turnout for the ballot is 30 percent.

Seven people are running in the race including Alu Alkhanov, a Moscow-backed candidate who is favoured to win the poll.

Earlier, a man carrying an explosive device was killed when it blew up outside a polling station in the capital, Grozny. Election officials say the device exploded as he was running away from police who had approached him. No one else was injured. Reuters reported that Russian officials have identified the man as a wanted Chechen separatist fighter.

Chief election official Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov told Rossiya state television that "everything has been done to conduct normal, free, democratic elections."

Thousands of Chechen police, along with Russian federal troops, are guarding voting stations after threats by rebels to disrupt the poll.

Grozny resident Bainurbek Yekhjyaev was the first voter in the city today.

"I am for peace and stability in Chechnya. I don't want a return of those black days which Chechen people spent in caves and cellars without food and water. God give us [peace and stability] as of today," Yekhjyaev said.

The election is being held after President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov was assassinated in May.