Chechnya’s Supreme Shariah Court has banned the celebration of New Year in the republic, arguing that it is not an Islamic festival. The court declared it an offense for Chechen citizens to decorate public places or private homes with trees or lights in honor of the new year. Instead, President Aslan Maskhadov’s spokesman said that the president intends to declare December 31, first anniversary of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, a public holiday. It will be called Freedom Day or Victory Day, (Russian agencies, December 11; RTR, December 13
Maskhadov’s spokesman confirmed that Maskhadov has already delegated oversight of the economy and responsibility for day-to-day running of the cabinet to First Deputy Premier Shamil Basaev. The president retains direct control over foreign and security policy. Initial reaction in Moscow, where Basaev is generally depicted as the "butcher of Budennovsk," was negative. But some Russian commentary was calmer, pointing out that Basaev is a national hero in Chechnya and that Maskhadov’s move to share power is intended to fend off the influence of militant opposition leaders. In its commentary, Kommersant-daily pointed out that Basaev’s supporters already make up one-third of the members of the Chechen government. The newspaper predicted that Basaev will eventually assume the post of prime minister, currently held by Maskhadov. This will require a change to the constitution which, Maskhadov told a press conference last week, will probably be achieved by means of a referendum. (Kommersant-daily, December 10)
Kidnapped Britons Said Alive and Well.