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Eccentric President Of Kalmykia To Step Down After 17 Years

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
ELISTA, Russia -- The president of the southern Russian republic of Kalmykia has announced he will not seek reelection for the post he has held since 1993, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, 48, is the first and only president of Kalmykia, a predominantly Buddhist republic north of the Caucasus.

He said on September 7 he will not stand again for office because he supports "the policy of [Russian President Dmitry Medvedev] aimed at renewing the leaders of the regions."

Ilyumzhinov added that he will support any candidate supported by Medvedev and put forward by United Russia, of which he is a member.

Basan Gorodovikov, the deputy chairman of the civil group the Emergency Rally of the People of Kalmykia, told RFE/RL that Ilyumzhinov's resignation has been met with enthusiasm by opposition groups in the region.

"There was relief among the residents of Kalmykia on hearing the news that Ilyumzhinov will not be a candidate for another term," he said. "After 17 years of Ilyumzhinov's rule, Kalmykia is in a dire economic state. The republic has regularly ranked last in all statistics for the Russian Federation."

Kalmykia, which has a population of some 300,000, is one of Russia's poorer regions. Ilyumzhinov has faced fierce opposition to his eccentric rule, which his opponents say was marred by corruption and gross mismanagement.

Gorodovikov said he hopes Medvedev will "put right the mistakes made by his predecessor [Vladimir Putin]."

Political scientist Andrei Makarkin told RFE/RL he does not think Ilyumzhinov's retirement as president marks a victory for Medvedev against Putin's regional presidential selections.

"This is the latest step in the firing of the heads of the regions who are seen as deep-rooted veterans," Makarkin said. "Like with [the recently retired former president of Tatarstan, Mintimer] Shaimiyev and [the former president of Bashkortostan, Murtaza] Rakhimov."

Makarkin said the most-interesting thing about Ilyumzhinov stepping down is that he was not allowed to appoint a successor.

Ilyumzhinov, who has served four terms as president, said he will leave his post on September 24.

Ilyumzhinov has also been the president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) since 1995. He spent millions of dollars building a Chess City on the outskirts of the capital, Elitsa, and introduced mandatory chess classes for elementary school students.

During a May interview on Russian television, Ilyumzhinov reiterated claims that he had been visited by aliens in Moscow in 1997.