Palestinian Leader Visits Chechnya

APKadyrov, left, introducing Abbas, third from left, to local senior officials during a meeting in Tsentoroi on Sunday.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas predicted that Chechnya faced a bright future as he visited the region Sunday before heading to Moscow for Kremlin talks.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov welcomed Abbas on his arrival at the Grozny airport.

"We feel at home here," Abbas told journalists through an interpreter after he stepped off his plane in freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall early Sunday. "We thank the Almighty that we came to the Chechen republic."

He said Chechnya "had to pay a high price" for its future, which he predicted would be "bright."

Kadyrov welcomed Abbas as "a true Muslim and a good man."

Kadyrov, a former rebel who now declares loyalty to the Kremlin, held talks with Abbas during the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

Abbas said the situation in war-battered Chechnya "has greatly improved and continues to improve."

"There are things that unite us with the Chechens, and I am watching what is happening in the republic," he said.

Chechnya is now relatively peaceful after two wars fought by separatist rebels and Islamist militants against Moscow's rule, which began in 1994.

Some analysts say that in return for quelling rebel attacks the Kremlin has let Kadyrov enforce some Islamic rules, such as requiring women working in government offices to wear headscarves and long skirts, and imposing periodic alcohol bans.

Kadyrov took Abbas to his residence along a road decorated with photos of their previous meetings. At Kadyrov's home village of Tsentoroi, they visited the grave of Kadyrov's father, former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was killed in a Victory Day bomb attack in Grozny in May 2004.

Chechen soldiers also demonstrated their shooting skills to Abbas in Tsentoroi.

Abbas left Grozny for Moscow late Sunday. A Kremlin spokesman in Moscow said Abbas would stay in Russia until Monday, when he was due to hold talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The talks were expected to focus on Middle East peace talks, in which Russia plays a leading role.

Abbas was also scheduled to receive Russia's Al-Fakhr Muslim award at a ceremony in Moscow.