Hollywood goes to Chechnya for party
CHECHNYA'S Kremlin-backed leader marked his 35th birthday yesterday with a lavish celebration in central Grozny featuring Hollywood stars and the opening of a skyscraper complex.
The celebration came amid concerns from activists that the territory under the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov remains rife with rights abuses.
Mr Kadyrov had said he would fire any officials who tried to give him birthday presents as he did not want a big celebration, but two years ago the City Day of Grozny was conveniently moved to Mr Kadyrov's birthday, and yesterday evening's festivities were ostensibly to celebrate the city.
Central Grozny was closed off for the night, which also saw the opening of Grozny City, a collection of Dubai-style skyscrapers in the Chechen capital, where just a decade ago barely a building was standing.
Mr Kadyrov shouted "Allahu Akbar" three times as the buildings were illuminated with hundreds of fireworks. Mr Kadyrov took over as effective ruler of the republic when his father, Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, was killed in a bomb attack in May 2005.
After the opening of Grozny City, Jean-Claude van Damme was welcomed to the stage, where he paid tribute to Mr Kadyrov. Although he referred repeatedly to "the country of Chechena" (sic), he recovered at the end of his speech to yell, "I love you Mr Kadyrov!" The assembled dignitaries applauded.
Actress Hilary Swank, next on stage said she had been on a tour of the town. "I could feel the spirit of the people, and I could see that everyone was so happy," she said. "Happy birthday Mr President."
Later, the violinist Vanessa Mae, who was paid a reported $500,000 (€374,098) to attend, performed.
Asked by journalists where the money for all the spending in Chechnya comes from, Mr Kadyrov laughed. "Allah gives it to us. We don't know ourselves where it comes from." (© Independent News Service)