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February 17th 2003 · Prague Watchdog / Ruslan Isayev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Collection of signatures petitioning Russian President Putin launched in Chechnya

Ruslan Isayev, North Caucasus, February 15 – A collection of signatures on a petition to Russian President Vladimir Putin was recently started in Chechnya. All Chechens who signed the document are convinced that it is impossible, under current circumstances, to hold a fair referendum on the new Chechen constitution.

The situation in the country must be normalized before a referendum can be held. Only by this method, states the petition, can Russia avoid being accused of holding a referendum under the barrel of a gun.

The petition further states: “The new constitution is the most important document which, as authorities claim, will be of crucial importance for the people of Chechnya. Therefore, it is necessary that everyone should feel free to express his will. And everyone must be assured that he or she will not be visited at night in the event they do not go to the polling station, or do not vote for the draft constitution. In order to help us feel this way, we ask you to carry out the following steps before holding the referendum:

1. End the ”counter-terrorist” operation by March 1, 2003.
2. Lift the curfew on the territory of the republic.
3. Create safe living conditions so that federal authorities will respect our rights and freedoms
4. Inform people where their relatives are being held after being arrested by armed forces during their special operations.”

Since February 14, signatures have been collected in all districts of Chechnya; in the Urus-Martan district alone, about one thousand people signed during the first two days. The petition has not as yet been sent to the President.

This petition was initiated by ”The Victims of War”, a public association whose members include relatives and close friends of people who disappeared in Chechnya during the ”mopping-up” operations of the armed forces. Such as Zainap Gambekova, head of the organization, who cannot find her son who was arrested by Russian soldiers a year ago.

(H/E,T)

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