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Kadyrov Takes Control in Chechnya

New Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov holding a banner during his inauguration ceremony Thursday in Gudermes. Musa Sadulayev
GUDERMES, Chechnya -- Ramzan Kadyrov was sworn in as president of Chechnya on Thursday in a star-studded ceremony here.

Kristina Orbakaite and Nikolai Baskov were among the celebrities in attendance at the lavish inauguration, and rumors were rife that Patricia Kaas, Shakira and Beyonce would fly in for a concert Thursday evening.

The inauguration committee said, however, that no foreign stars would take part in the concert.

Wearing his Hero of Russia medal, Kadyrov placed his hand on a copy of the Chechen Constitution and was sworn in during a brief ceremony. Dmitry Kozak, the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, presented him with an official identity card.

"When a new leader comes along, all hopes are placed on him. I hope you fulfill those desires," President Vladimir Putin said in a message read by Kozak. "You have to continue the work of reviving Chechnya."

The ceremony took place in a specially built pavilion next to the president's private residence in Gudermes. Security was tight all over the republic, with the entire police force on duty.

Police officers were stationed every 100 meters along the road as more than 1,500 guests and 200 journalists arrived for the ceremony. Eleven chartered planes flew in from Moscow for the occasion. Everyone was searched at least twice before entering the pavilion.

Before the inauguration, the republic had been a hive of activity. Certain parts of Grozny, which is undergoing enormous rebuilding work, were ordered to be finished by Thursday. Most government workers, including policemen, took part in cleaning up the republic in the days before the ceremony. Fountains were turned on Thursday for the first time this year.

To celebrate the inauguration, some 10,000 students gathered in Akhmad Kadyrov Square in Grozny, near the statue of Ramzan Kadyrov's father, who was assassinated three years ago, Interfax reported.

Posters of Ramzan Kadyrov were put up across the republic. Students who lined the roads in Grozny and Gudermes to greet arriving guests were outfitted with T-shirts from the president's fan club, reported.

One invited guest who did not show was Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, who on a trip to Chechnya in March said the republic was the darkest spot for human rights in all of Europe.

Hammarberg's representative in Chechnya, Mamed Madayev, said the commissioner welcomed political stabilization in the region, but urged the authorities "to investigate these crimes, punish the guilty and give information to the relatives of kidnapped citizens."

Human rights activists have repeatedly accused local law enforcement agents loyal to Kadyrov of crimes such as kidnapping and torturing.

The inauguration was also a time for local leaders to pay tribute to Kadyrov.

Arsen Kanokov, the president of the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, said he and Kadyrov had agreed "never to give each other daggers, Mauser pistols, automatic machine guns or other arms."

"These arms we have already presented to the whole of Russia. And that is why today I brought Kadyrov a painting and also present him with the keys to a Mercedes," Kanokov said, Interfax reported.

Although Chechnya is one of the poorest regions in the country, Kadyrov often receives lavish gifts. On his 30th birthday, Kadyrov was given a Ferrari, reportedly worth $450,000, with his own personalized license plates. Rostselmash, a top manufacturer of agricultural equipment, gave Kadyrov a combine harvester in honor of his inauguration, Itar-Tass reported.

Rostov Governor Vladimir Chub named a riverboat in honor of Kadyrov's father and promised support from the region.

Kadyrov, who commands strong loyalty in the republic's law enforcement agencies, has wielded de facto control of Chechnya since his father's death.

He became first deputy prime minister in May 2004 and was promoted to prime minister in November 2005. Former President Alu Alkhanov left office in February of this year, and Kadyrov became acting head of the republic. Putin then nominated Kadyrov to the presidency.

Now that he has become president, Kadyrov, who praised the power vertical during the ceremony, will likely strengthen his control over the republic even further by trimming the powers of the prime minister, Chechen political analyst Edilbek Khasmagomadov said.

"All the power will become concentrated in the hands of Kadyrov," he said, adding that most Chechens support this trend.

The danger, Khasmagomadov said, is that "the current regime, like the former, will not serve the interests of society and the state, but will place the interests of the family clan in first."

Staff Writer Kevin O'Flynn contributed to this report from Moscow.

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