Chechnya's Kremlin-backed parliament moves to rename capital

Chechnya's parliament on Wednesday asked the Kremlin to rename the war-ravaged provincial capital after Moscow-backed Chechen President &to=' target=_blank>Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in a rebel bombing last year.

Kadyrov's son, a powerful Chechen official who is widely assumed to become the region's next president, however, voiced opposition to the plan.

Parliament voted unanimously to ask Russian President &to=' target=_blank>Vladimir Putin to rename Grozny as Akhmad-Kala, in the memory of Kadyrov, who was killed in a bomb blast in a Grozny stadium in May 2004.

Grozny, traditionally translated as "terrible," was built by the Russians as a fortress when they conquered Chechnya in the 19th century. Chechnya's parliament speaker, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, said the capital's name raised dark associations for most Chechens.

"The fortress of Grozny was founded to project power and subdue the people," Abdurakhmanov told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The people have seen many perils since the fortress has been founded."

During two wars over a decade, Grozny has been pulverized by relentless Russian troop and artillery strikes that turned most apartment buildings into blackened ruins. The destruction has drawn broad comparisons to Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, which left that Russian city destroyed and deserted.

Putin briefly visited Chechnya on Monday and pledged to help rebuild Grozny, where Kadyrov's 29-year-old son, Ramzan, now serves as deputy prime minister.

Late Wednesday, Russian news agencies quoted Ramzan Kadyrov as saying that he opposed the idea of renaming the Chechen capital.

"I don't see any reason for renaming Grozny," he was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass and Interfax. "If we want to commemorate the memory of (my father), then the best method is to rebuild the ruins that are here in Grozny."

Kadyrov's widely feared paramilitary unit is blamed for abducting civilians, and he reportedly controls a large chunk of Chechnya's oil wealth. He is widely expected to succeed Chechnya's current president, Alu Alkhanov, after he turns 30, the minimum age for presidents under local law.

Several rights activists also slammed the proposal for renaming the city.

"The deeds of Kadyrov _ both the father and the son _ have brought suffering to many Chechen families," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of Russia's leading rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group. "It is an insult."

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