President Vladimir Putin on Thursday nominated widely feared strongman Ramzan Kadyrov the new president of Chechnya, while Europe's human rights chief denounced torture and other rampant abuses in the war-battered Russian region.
Kadyrov has run a security corps that is widely alleged to abduct and abuse suspected rebels and civilians believed to be connected to them.
Speaking at a rights conference in Chechnya on Thursday, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, said he had found widespread evidence of torture and other rights abuses on his trip to the region, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Kadyrov's nomination by Putin follows the dismissal of regional President Alu Alkhanov and requires approval by the local legislature a mere formality given Kadyrov's clout.
Kadyrov was named acting president after Alkhanov's ouster last week, after serving as the regional prime minister, and had been expected to seek the presidency after turning 30 in October the minimum age for presidents under local law.
Kadyrov is the son of the late Akhmad Kadyrov, who became Chechen president in 2003 in a Kremlin-conducted election aimed at undermining the separatist rebel movement and who was assassinated seven months later.
More than a decade of separatist fighting left much of Chechnya, particularly the capital Grozny, a moonscape of ruins, but Kadyrov, as prime minister, has led a largely federally funded campaign to rebuild.
During a meeting with Kadyrov on Thursday, Putin hailed his reconstruction efforts. "Chechnya has seen significant positive developments," Putin said in televised remarks.
He voiced hope that Kadyrov would continue efforts to improve social and economic conditions in the region, so that "people of Chechnya feel a greater security."
International rights groups have accused Kadyrov's security force of abuses against civilians, including abductions, torture and killing.
After the murder in October of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who had reported critically on Chechnya, speculation rose that the killing was connected with her investigation of Kadyrov's administration.
Kadyrov denied any connection, saying "I don't kill women."
Chechnya has been plagued by fighting with separatist rebels for most the past dozen years. A 20-month war ended in 1996 with the withdrawal of Russian troops after rebels fought them to a standstill. The region became de-facto independent and increasingly under the influence of fundamentalist Islam.
In September 1999, Russian forces swept back into the region following an incursion by Chechnya-based fighters into neighboring Dagestan and after fatal apartment bombings in other parts of Russia which officials blamed on the separatists, reports AP.
Major fighting had died down by 2001, but rebels and Russian soldiers still clash in skirmishes and rebels have continued to attack Russian forces with roadside bombs and booby-traps.