The new president of Chechnya replaced the mayor of the regional capital, Grozny, on Wednesday, apparently moving to tighten his control over the city less than a week after President Vladimir Putin picked him for the top post in the war-scarred region.
Ramzan Kadyrov appointed Muslim Khuchiyev as mayor of Grozny, dismissing Movsar Temirbayev, his office said. Khuchiyev had been first deputy chief of staff for the president and Cabinet in Chechnya, where Kadyrov was prime minister before his promotion last week.
Kadyrov is feared by many Chechens, and rights groups have accused security forces under his control of widespread abuses, but he is also credited for a rebuilding campaign that has transformed the face of Grozny following more than a decade of devastating warfare that left much of the city in ruins.
"Today we need new heads with new ideas. Muslim Khuchiyev is that very person," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Kadyrov as saying. "He managed to raise 1 billion rubles (US$38 million; Ђ29 million) of investments in the reconstruction of Grozny."
According to Kadyrov's office, Khuchiyev is vice president of a fund controlled by Kadyrov that along with federal funding helps pay for the massive building and repair campaign. Kadyrov last year denied allegations the fund is financed by skimming off state salaries, saying it comes from donations from wealthy Chechens and other sources.
"We should complete the revival of Grozny this year, and I entrust this difficult task to Khuchiyev," RIA-Novosti quoted Kadyrov as saying.
Kadyrov evoked complaints from Chechens that bureaucrats have abused their authority to acquire property by cheating others, saying bureaucrats have carried out "machinations with apartments" and telling Khuchiyev to deal with the problem, RIA-Novosti reported.
The Kremlin sent troops into Chechnya in 1994 in a bid to crush its separatist leadership, starting a 20-month war that ended with a humiliating Russian withdrawal after rebels fought them to standstill.
Three years of de-facto independence followed, during which Chechnya became notoriously lawless, plagued by ransom kidnappings and increasingly influenced by militant Islam.
Russian forces swept in again in 1999 and drove the separatist government from power, and the Kremlin established a pro-Russian administration. Large-scale battles ended years ago, but fighting persists.
Khuchiyev was among prospective Chechen presidential candidates submitted to Putin under legislation that scrapped Russia's regional elections and enabled Putin to choose a candidate who must then be approved by the regional legislature, reports AP.
While he is tainted by the abuse accusations, Kadyrov son of Chechnya's first Moscow-backed president, who was elected in 2003 and assassinated in 2004 has been at the heart of a Kremlin strategy to crush continued rebel resistance and bring the mostly Muslim region under control.
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