Reconstruction Helping Chechen Capital

By STEVE GUTTERMAN
The Associated Press
Friday, October 20, 2006; 1:53 PM

GROZNY, Russia -- With a sweep of his walkie-talkie, the black-clad special police officer showed off construction projects transforming war-ravaged Grozny: a restored boulevard, apartment buildings under repair and a huge mosque locals boast will be the biggest in Europe.

The capital of the Chechnya region is in the throes of a building boom that is starting to erase the scars of war between Islamic separatists and the Russian army.

"In two or three years, it be all be done and look great _ just like before," said the officer, who gave only his first name, Shirvani, because he did not want publicity.

He meant before the army rained bombs and artillery shells on Grozny in a 1994-96 offensive as indiscriminate as it was unsuccessful, leaving rebels in charge and a city in ruins when they withdrew from this part of southern Russia's restive Caucasus region.

In 1999, Grozny was pummeled again when the Russian leadership, with then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin leading the charge, launched a new war and ousted the separatist government.

Chechnya is still plagued by rebel attacks on security forces, and Grozny's scars are everywhere _ vines snake over bombed-out brick houses and damaged apartment buildings line streets, some with lights shining from units occupied by returning refugees with nowhere else to go.

But the fiercest fighting is in the past, and damage is slowing being erased in the city, which official estimate is now home to some 200,000 people _ about half the pre-war population.

"It's getting better every day," said Tamerlan Abdulayev, 18, who comes to Grozny from a nearby village to attend trade school.

When he and a friend started three years ago, they would head home immediately after classes because the city was depressing and there was nothing to do. "Now we stay and look around," he said.

Almost any glance at Grozny presents a strange mix.

Dilapidated apartment buildings stand by a road to the restored airport, expected to start regular operations soon. A new arch over a street, decorated with portraits of Putin and Chechnya's first Kremlin-backed president, the late Akhmad Kadyrov, gives way to a wasteland on the city's outskirts.

The arch and airport were dedicated this month, on the 30th birthday of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the assassinated president. The younger Kadyrov is widely credited as the force behind the building boom that took after he assumed the post last year.


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