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Chechnya: EU Cautious In Assessment Of Presidentail Elections

Brussels, 6 October 2003 (RFE/RL) - The European Commission today said it doubts that the presidential election in Chechnya, won by current pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (pictured), was "free or fair." Diego de Ojeda, spokesman to Chris Patten, the EU's external affairs commissioner, said, however, that the EU supports all moves towards restoring peace in the breakaway republic.

"It is clear that the situation on the ground is extremely complex and difficult and it casts doubt [on] the possibility of conducting free and fair elections according to international standards," de Ojeda said. "Nevertheless, what is most important to us is that these elections somehow gain respectability, or credibility -- or legitimacy, more accurately -- within the Chechen population."

De Ojeda said the success of the the election would be measured by their contribution to the process of "finding a [political] consensus that attracts the majority of the Chechen population."

News agencies say that while international nongovernmental organizations have largely condemned the elections as not free, major Western governments have been cautious about criticism.

Kadyrov is said by the Chechen election commission to have won more than 80 percent of the vote in ballot counting thus far. The head of the commission, Abdul Karim Arsakhanov, said today: "Kadyrov is the absolute leader [in the election], it is practically impossible [for other candidates] to get close to him or overtake him."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking today during a cabinet meeting in Moscow, said: "I think what is going on in Chechnya right now does not need any commentary. I'm not even mentioning the result [of the presidential election], which is certainly very pleasing. That's not even the issue. The mere fact of such a high turnout means that the people have hope -- hope for a better life, hope for positive changes in the republic."

Turnout was also reported to be over 80 percent. And Putin added: "Now, together with the Chechen leadership and public, we must continue to work on a power-sharing agreement between the republic and the federal center and then help Chechnya elect its parliament when the time comes, and I hope it won't be put off for too long."

Kadyrov, speaking today in Tsentoroi, Chechnya, said: "I am feeling the enormous weight of responsibility for the republic, for the people who trust me, I thank them very much. I know there is a lot to be done and it should be done together with the people."