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March 24th 2003 · Prague Watchdog / Timur Aliyev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Human rights defenders cast doubt on referendum results

Timur Aliyev, North Caucasus - Chechen human rights defenders have cast doubt on the 85% turnout announced for the Chechen constitutional referendum, claiming that their monitoring did not reveal such a high number.

"The town was virtually empty, and by noon only seven elderly men came to the polling station in Katayama," said Yekaterina Sokiryanska, a trainee at Memorial, the Russian human rights group.

"As soon as we heard on television that there were queues at the polling station of School No.7, we rushed right over, but we found only five people there. It seems that shortly before our arrival, long queues had indeed formed, but they were primarily made up of people loyal to Beslan Gantamirov, the Chechen Press Minister,“ stated Lida Yusupova of Memorial.

Meanwhile, Chechen authorities today declared that the election took place and that the drafts of the constitution and the presidential and parliamentary election acts had been approved.

Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, chairman of the Election Committee, said that according to preliminary results from 418 election precincts in Chechnya and Ingushetia, 85% of registered voters arrived at the polls on March 23. "Therefore voting did take place," he insisted, adding that each of the three documents was approved by some 95-97% of voters.

"The results were known beforehand," Memorial's Usam Baysayev's said. "How is it possible that by 10:00 a.m. the turnout in Sharoy had already reached 40%? The answer is that 1,500 people live in the Sharo-Argun village, but there are also 4,000 Russian border guards there and they obviously increased the percentage," Baysayev explained.

According to the Joint Troops Group in Northern Caucasus, a total of 36,000 permanently stationed servicemen and their families were included in the poll. There are 23,000 soldiers of the Russian Defense Ministry, 9,000 of the Russian Interior Ministry, and 4,000 border guards, all of whom voted at 41 polling stations located in military compounds and command posts.

In Ingushetia, nearly 3,000 people had submitted applications that made them eligible to vote; yet the actual turnout totalled 5,500.

Ruslan Badalov, the chairman of the Chechen Committee for National Salvation, thinks the difference was caused by incorrect figures provided by the election committee. “There are 50,000 eligible voters among Chechen refugees in Ingushetia, so given that figure, only 3.5% of the refugees took part in the referendum," he stated.

"Even if we use the figures of the Ingush Interior Ministry, that there were 20,000 eligible voters in Ingushetia, then the turnout does not even exceed 15%," Badalov added.

Badalov claims that the figures are fictitious, like the ones in last year’s census. "In fact, the majority of Chechens boycotted the referendum," he asserted.

In the meantime, protests against the referendum continue in Grozny. Some 30-40 women, whose sons disappeared during the Russian mop-up operations, are still picketing in front of the Chechen administration building.

(T/E)

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