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Chechen rebel leader claims presidential victory


Moscow remains resistant to independence

January 28, 1997
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EST (2120 GMT)

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(CNN) -- Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday cautiously welcomed the apparent victory of moderate candidate Aslan Maskhadov in breakaway Chechnya's presidential election. But Moscow also indicated it would not accept independence for Chechnya, a mostly Muslim region of southern Russia.

Maskhadov, one of 13 candidates, received about two-thirds of the tabulated vote, according to Chechnya's Central Election Commission. The commission said about one-third of the ballots had not been tallied.

No official results from the presidential polls, held simultaneously with the regional parliament election, have been announced.

What the winner has planned

At a news conference declaring victory, Maskhadov promised to make sure "our independence is recognized by all the countries of the world, including Russia." To achieve that end, he said Chechnya would use only political means and was ready for direct talks with Moscow.

Maskhadov also said he intends to create an Islamic state, adding "there isn't anything that anybody should be afraid of."

Moscow's reaction

"In the president's opinion," said Yeltsin press aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the election gives "a serious chance for productive negotiations to continue between the federal government and the new Chechen leadership."

He said, however, that the Kremlin still ruled out granting full independence to Chechnya, where Russian troops unsuccessfully waged a 21-month military campaign to crush pro-independence rebels.

A peace deal signed last August defers Chechnya's final political status for five years, but Maskhadov, like all his main rivals in the presidential race, insists his Caucasian region is already a fully independent state.

Rebel unity sought

At his news conference declaring victory, the 45-year-old military leader who masterminded the defeat of Russian forces chided rebel hard-liner Shamil Basayev, 32, who seemed set to finish a distant second, for running a dirty campaign.

But he promised to work with any of his former allies. "Basayev can come and be my comrade again," he told reporters at his farmhouse home outside the capital Grozny.

Basayev's apparent second-place showing was a relief to Moscow. He is loathed in the Kremlin for leading a spectacular raid on the Russian town of Butennovsk in 1995 in which more than 100 people died.

Election monitors pleased

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent dozens of observers to the election, gave its seal of approval to the polls on Tuesday.

Tim Guldimann, OSCE mission chief in Chechnya, said 72 OSCE observers had registered only minor procedural problems during the voting on Monday, such as campaigning right up until polling day.

"There were no serious infringements with effect on the overall results and in particular there were no indications of distortions," he said.

Correspondent Betsy Aaron and Reuters contributed to this report.


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