Voting in Chechnya Proceeds Despite Protests, Rebel Attacks
GROZNY, Russia (AP) _ Rebels sprayed a polling station in the Chechen capital with automatic gunfire Saturday and dozens of residents demonstrated against parliamentary elections held by the republic’s Russian-backed government.
Election workers reported a low turnout among Chechens for the vote, which the rebels say violates an agreement with Moscow to postpone the elections until Russian troops leave.
Rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov denounced the vote as a ``provocation.″
About 150 demonstrators, most of them women, rallied in Grozny, holding posters demanding the dismissal of Doku Zavgayev, head of the government that Russia installed last year.
The parliamentary election set up by Zavgayev to consolidate his grip on power was to have taken place Sunday, to coincide with the Russia-wide presidential election. But Zavgayev suddenly opened the polls ahead of time on Friday and ordered the balloting to last three days to boost turnout.
Gunmen riding in two jeeps with the separatists’ green flags on their roofs attacked a Grozny polling station on Saturday. No injuries were reported, the Interfax news agency said.
Rebels staged three attacks on polling stations in Grozny on Friday night, said Yuri Pugin, a Chechen deputy interior minister. Russian troops also found and defused two land mines in the capital.
The rebels are protesting the Chechen government’s failure to abide by an agreement between Moscow and the separatists to postpone elections until Russian troops withdraw and the rebels disarm. That’s supposed to happen by Aug. 30.
While turnout among Chechens was low for the parliamentary and presidential elections, Russian troops who are also entitled to vote, did so.
Soldiers from two army brigades slated to stay in Chechnya after the other troops leave cast ballots for parliament.
The commander of one of the brigades, Gen. Valery Nazarov of the 205th Motorized Rifle Brigade, is running for a legislative seat.
Fighting has continued in Chechnya despite a truce reached last month by President Boris Yeltsin and rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and despite the military pact signed this month. 27 cease-fire agreement, the Russian military said Saturday.
The truce was initially hailed as breakthrough in the 18-month-old war and a boost for Yeltsin’s re-election chances. Its impact on the election is now uncertain because of the renewed fighting.
The war has killed more than 30,000 people, mostly civilians, since Yeltsin sent troops in December 1994 to suppress Chechnya’s independence bid.