Updated: Wednesday, 29 January 2014 04:02 | By Agence France-Presse

Chechnya hosts Olympic torch with lavish ceremony

The Olympic torch on Tuesday received a lavish welcome in the volatile North Caucasus region of Chechnya whose separatists have threatened to disrupt the Winter Games that begin in Sochi next month.


Chechnya hosts Olympic torch with lavish ceremony

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov speaks in Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on August 7, 2013 - by Alexey Nikolsky

During a pomp-filled ceremony at Grozny stadium Chechen strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov carried the torch around the arena in front of thousands of spectators.

"We love sport, we have done much for its development," Kadyrov, who wore a tracksuit and a white cap with the logo of the Sochi Games, said in televised remarks.

Kadyrov –- who once captained a local football team in a game against former Brazilian World Cup stars in the capital Grozny -- has brought a degree of stability to a volatile region where Russian authorities have fought two wars against separatists over the past 20 years.

Activists say the rule of the Kremlin-backed former rebel, who switched sides, has been accompanied by brutal rights violations.

The Olympic torch received a red carpet reception at the city's airport after flying into Grozny from the nearby Caucasus region of Karachay-Cherkessia.

On Monday it was in neighbouring Dagestan, one of the most volatile North Caucasus regions that is plagued by an armed Islamist rebellion.

There the torch relay had originally been planned to go through the streets of the Dagestani capital Makhachkala, but for security reasons the ceremony took place entirely within the stadium of local football club Anzhi.

Doku Umarov, the leader of the Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus, has vowed that fighters battling Moscow will use "any means possible" to halt the Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi located close to the Caucasus. 

On Saturday, the Olympic torch is to be brought to Mount Elbrus, Europe’s highest peak at 5,642 metres.

The Olympic symbol has already taken a dive in Lake Baikal, travelled to the North Pole and even to space.

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