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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In War-Torn Town, Chechens Shun Polls

GUDERMES, Chechnya -- The old man leaned on his walking stick and stared around the empty room. "Will you vote?" one of the officials behind the table asked.


The man did not answer but sat slowly down on a chair and stared forward. After a few minutes rest he moved closer to the table, producing two passports, his own and his wife's. "For Zyuganov," he said.


The pace was gentle in Gudermes polling station No. 13 in the former House of Pioneers, with 10 people turning up in a half-hour period Wednesday morning.


Election officials said turnout among soldiers stationed in Chechnya was nearly 100 percent, while 64 percent of the republic's ordinary residents had voted by early evening, according to agency reports. But, as on June 16, these results were hard to take seriously.


Four policemen lounged and chatted under the shade of trees outside the polling station in Gudermes, their automatic rifles propped against their chairs.


There was none of the tension that marked the first round of voting, when local Chechen elections were also held and the pro-Moscow government, expecting disruptions from separatist rebels, put extra armed police on the streets.


Nor was there any of the violence that engulfed Gudermes in December, when Russian forces battled rebels for control of the town during Russian parliamentary elections, forcing residents to seek shelter in their cellars for 12 days.


In the capital of Grozny, a small bomb that exploded early Tuesday near the government polling station was quietly forgotten, the station's window panes replaced. By mid-afternoon, temperatures had climbed to 40 degrees Celsius, and there was not a voter to be seen in the handful of polling stations in downtown Grozny.


The voting was as haphazard as in the first round, with no printed lists, cases of multiple voting and instances where even foreign journalists were allowed to vote. No international observers monitored the elections in Chechnya.


Some officials were uncomfortable when asked about turnout, as figures they gave did not match the lists of signatures in front of them. In Argun on Tuesday, officials said 15 percent of voters had turned out by early evening, but then they admitted that only six people had actually voted at their station. Many villages across Chechnya have declared a boycott, and Grozny has officially acknowledged that no voting is taking place in the fiercely separatist mountain region of Vedeno.


On the edge of the village of Dzhalka not far from Gudermes, some 50 people were gathered under the trees to protest the elections. The village of 6,000 people was boycotting the elections, said Savar Edisultanov, 44, a medical worker.


"We do not want Russia's constitution or its elections," he said.


But the gathering was more picnic than demonstration, with villagers sitting on colored blankets in the shaded grass, old men leaning on their sticks and chuckling together, and women in white headscarves singing.


Down the road, Chechen policemen and Russian soldiers had abandoned their duties checking cars and were competing against each other to shoot beer cans on a mound of earth 10 meters away.