Armed guards barred women without headscarves from festivities in Russia’s Muslim Chechnya region marking a new holiday – to honour women

Chechen women said the holiday, established by the region’s Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov a year ago, was marred by rules he had previously imposed, restricting their rights by enforcing traditional Muslim customs in the volatile region.

Dark-haired women in floor-length satin gowns, their faces framed by white hijabs, were given prizes for motherhood and awarded medals for sons lost to war in a concert hall decorated with Chechen flags in the republic’s capital Grozny.

Outside the building a group of bareheaded women, prevented by guards from entering, tried to catch a glimpse of the Chechen folk dances inside while pink fireworks illuminated the Grozny skyline.

A spate of recent attacks on Chechen women for not wearing headscarves, which rights groups and assailants alike said were orchestrated by authorities, led to accusations that the celebrations were laced with hypocrisy.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rely on Kadyrov to maintain order in Chechnya, where separatists were driven from power a decade ago after two devastating wars with government forces.

Analysts say Kadyrov has tried, sometimes contrary to Russian law, to impose an increasingly radical vision of Islam in Chechnya, where alcohol sales are highly restricted and authorities encourage polygamy.

Many women said that during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on Sept. 10, they had been harassed by men for not wearing headscarves, in street raids that some of the assailants said were ordered by religious authorities.

Kadyrov, a devout Sufi Muslim, had previously praised such activism, telling state TV he was grateful to men who shot women with paintball pellets in June for going bareheaded.

Analysts say that while 90 percent of Chechnya’s 1.1 million people are Muslim and the majority identify themselves as believers, applying Islamic rules by force could raise tension.

Part of a longer article at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE68J1QE.htm

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