1,500 Protest Chechen War

APA woman holding a sign that says "Peace for Chechnya" at the rally Saturday.
Hundreds of people rallied in Moscow on Saturday in a rare protest against the 3 1/2-year war in Chechnya.

About 1,500 people gathered on Pushkin Square with signs reading "Stop the War in Chechnya" and "Federals, Go Home."

Chechen residents refer to Russian forces as "federals."

Organized by a coalition of human rights organizations, the rally was one of the biggest protests against the war since it began in 1999. Small groups hold regular, weekly protests in Moscow, but they rarely attract more than a dozen activists.

Viktor Shenderovich, a popular political satirist with his own TV show and one of the participants in Saturday's rally, cited polls that indicate most Russians favor ending the war through peace talks with the rebels. Officials have ruled out negotiations with rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov.

"What is happening in Chechnya is happening not in our name. I don't think we should be shy about saying so," Shenderovich said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Officials have touted a new Chechen constitution adopted in a referendum last month as the beginning of a peace process. The constitution cements the region within Russia, but critics say it means little without negotiations between the warring sides. Human rights advocates also question the validity of a vote held during wartime.

The referendum has done little to stem fighting in Chechnya.

Meanwhile, Russia's minister for Chechnya, Stanislav Ilyasov, said the government owed a total of 20 billion to 25 billion rubles ($650 million to $800 million) to people whose homes or property were destroyed in the two recent wars in the region.

Ilyasov said the first compensation payments would be made in October or November, according to Itar-Tass.