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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Opens Chechen Assembly

APThe military helicopter that carried Putin to Grozny standing outside the Chechen parliament building on Monday.
GROZNY -- President Vladimir Putin attended the opening session of Chechnya's newly elected parliament Monday, pledging to help rebuild the war-shattered Chechen capital and urging authorities to combat rampant abductions.

Putin, flown into Grozny by helicopter under tight security, praised members of the new parliament for choosing peace, and blamed foreigners for bringing in arms and destabilizing the region with extreme Islamic views.

"I thank all those who took part in these elections and in the whole, difficult peace process," Putin told lawmakers after his helicopter landed in front of the parliament building.

"I assure you we are on the right road, and those [separatists] who are on that side and try to defend their mistaken ideals either do not know or have forgotten that Russia has always been the most loyal, reliable and consistent defender of the Islamic world's interests."

The Nov. 27 election, in which the United Russia party won the largest number of seats, was a key part of the Kremlin's argument that the southern region is stabilizing, despite daily fighting, rampant abductions and endemic unemployment.

Many observers, however, said the vote was far from free and fair, and analysts say the new legislature will be nothing more than a rubber-stamp body for Chechnya's Kremlin-backed governing elite.

Speaking at the parliament session, Putin hailed the elections as a landmark step in Chechnya's history and promised that rebuilding Grozny would be a top priority for the government.

Putin also urged authorities to punish those responsible for abductions "no matter who they are and what agencies they represent."

"It's necessary to take every measure to end the abductions," he said.

Nearly 1,700 people have been abducted in Chechnya and are still missing, a regional government committee said earlier this year.

Seated on Putin's left as he spoke was Ramzan Kadyrov, the 29-year-old deputy prime minister who heads a widely feared paramilitary force. On his right was Chechen President Alu Alkhanov. Kadyrov -- whose father, Akhmad Kadyrov, was Chechnya's president until he was assassinated in a May 2004 bomb blast -- is widely expected to become Chechnya's next president sometime after he turns 30.

Human rights groups say that federal troops and local security forces, including the so-called kadyrovtsy paramilitary fighters, have been responsible for most of the kidnappings.

Putin on Monday insisted that Russia's military action in Chechnya was not directed against Muslims, saying that Russia had always defended the Islamic world's interests.


Putin attending the parliament's opening with Alkhanov, left, and Kadyrov.

By waging a war against Russia, the rebels are destroying "a key bulwark of support for the Islamic world," he said.

"Chechnya has battled many problems, and this has given rise to conflict not only in Chechnya but also in Russia," he said.

"The worst thing that happened was that the people who brought weapons also brought with them a perverted interpretation of the Quran --absolutely not natural for the people of Russia's North Caucasus."

The Kremlin says stability is taking hold in the region. But, in a sign of the security worries still afflicting Chechnya, Putin's trip was unannounced, and Russian news agencies did not report it until he had left.

Putin visited Chechnya twice last year after Akhmad Kadyrov's assassination. He then promised to rebuild Grozny, where 90 percent of buildings are still in ruins from federal troops' bombardment of the city.

Interfax reported on Monday that nine Defense Ministry troops were killed in November.

No statistics have been made available for recent losses by the Interior Ministry, which controls the majority of the 100,000 federal troops in and around the region.

(AP, Reuters)