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March 4th 2003 · Prague Watchdog / Timur Aliyev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Chechen human rights defenders request President Putin to postpone referendum

Timur Aliyev, North Caucasus – Representatives of Chechen human rights and civil organizations appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to cancel the referendum on the Chechen constitution scheduled for March 23.

Meeting in Nazran on March 2 at a conference called “Referendum in the Chechen Republic – Showing the Will of the Nation?”, representatives of nearly 60 human rights and civil organizations stated that the referendum is premature and its form unsuitable.

“It is necessary to hold a referendum in Chechnya, but not in the manner in which the Russian authorities are doing it,” said one of the participants in the conference, Ruslan Badalov, who chairs the Chechen Committee of National Salvation.

“Prior to having a referendum, leaders of both parties have to hold negotiations, which would involve representatives of major international organizations, and conclude an agreement to terminate the war,” states the document. “Circumstances do not allow for a referendum to be held now because Russian military actions in Chechnya have not yet ceased.”

A member of the referendum’s task group, Ruslan Tsugayev, announced at the conference that “ military forces have refused to return to their barracks until the situation in Chechnya becomes stabilized. This is possible only if it gets done legally. If we are able to save even one young life after the 23rd, the referendum was worth it.”

Should the Russian President reject the appeal, then human rights defenders are ready to support the initiatives of several anti-referendum events. On March 21-23, representatives of the Chechen NGOs plan to go on a hunger strike to protest the referendum. “This strike will show our disapproval,” said Badalov.

Human rights defenders decided that observers from civil organizations would be present in the election districts to monitor the referendum. “In the event that any breaches occur, we will be able to catch the culprits red-handed,” said Lema Shakhmurzayev, director of the political culture institute “Lamast”.

(P/E,T)

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