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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Passenger Air Service to Grozny Resumes

GROZNY -- The first regularly scheduled civilian passenger flight in six years arrived at Chechnya's main airport on Thursday.

A Tu-134 jet carrying 68 passengers touched down at Grozny's renovated airport just after 1 p.m. and was greeted by officials, including Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who said he hoped to attract international flights to the airport.

Moscow-Grozny flights will initially run three times per week and could increase to six weekly flights by the summer, officials said.

The last civilian flight into or out of Grozny was in March 1999, said a Chechen official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Passenger service was halted after masked men boarded a plane departing for Moscow and kidnapped the Interior Ministry's top envoy in the region.

Later that year, government troops swept back into the region in what became the second of two wars to ravage the republic in less than a decade.

In recent years, large-scale fighting has all but ended in Chechnya as government forces killed several top separatist leaders and co-opted many rebel fighters. Even at the end of 2005, however, the airport in Grozny -- once the largest in the North Caucasus region -- was a shattered and decrepit facility, its runways pocked by shell holes and the terminal building blown out.

The Kremlin and the Chechen administration it backs have spent lavishly to renovate the ravaged capital and other towns and hosted concerts, beauty pageants and sporting events in an attempt to show that calm has returned.

Despite the rebuilding efforts and government pronouncements, Chechnya remains plagued by widespread unemployment, a battered infrastructure, a large refugee population and rampant kidnappings of civilians that have been blamed on paramilitary forces controlled by Kadyrov.

Also Thursday, Kadyrov nominated his close ally for the post of the prime minister and appointed a former journalist as mayor of Grozny amid a reshuffle aimed at replacing supporters of his predecessor with his own loyalists, national news media reported.

Kadyrov told reporters at Thursday's ceremony that he has asked the Chechen parliament to approve First Deputy Prime Minister Odes Baisultanov as the republic's new prime minister, Interfax reported.

Baisultanov, one of Kadyrov's closest allies, oversaw the republic's police and other law enforcement agencies when Kadyrov served as prime minister. The Kremlin picked Kadyrov as Chechnya's new president after Alu Alkhanov resigned from this post earlier this year.

In addition to nominating Baisultanov, Kadyrov this week fired the mayor of Grozny and appointed a new secretary of the Council of Economic and Public Security.

The Chechen leader announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Grozny Mayor Movsar Temerbaev with Muslim Khuchiyev, Interfax reported. Khuchiyev is a graduate of Moscow State University's journalism faculty and had worked as a television reporter until first going into the private sector and then becoming Alkhanov's press secretary in 2004.

(AP, MT)