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Russia ends anti-terror regime in Chechnya

Russia has ordered an end to its counterterrorism regime in Chechnya. That could mean the withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops from the republic which has suffered two separatist wars in the past 15 years.

Protesters with placards and a megaphone

In the Chechen capital Grozny, protesters rally in memory of a murdered pro-Chechen lawyer

The cancellation was ordered by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and took effect Thursday morning, according to a statement from the National Anti-Terrorist Committee. A spokesman for the committee, which has responsibility for the region, said the decision is aimed at further normalizing the situation there, and restoring and developing its economic and social infrastructure.

Restrictions such as curfews, roadblocks, spot searches and arbitrary detention were imposed in Chechnya in 1999 when Russia sent troops to the region to end the north Caucasus republic's short-lived independence, which it won in an earlier war with Moscow. Critics say the special regime, which also includes restricted access for journalists, has fostered huge violations of human rights.

Over the past 10 years the pro-Moscow regional administration led by former rebel Ramzan Kadyrov has subdued large-scale rebel resistance. Kadyrov says Chechnya today is stable and has put behind it the violence which claimed tens of thousands of lives after war erupted in 1994. Kadyrov has long wanted to ease both the restrictions and slacken Moscow's grip on the region.

Russia has already withdrawn most of its army units from Chechnya but tens of thousands of police from other Russian regions and scores of special service units still patrol there. Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Vasily Panchenkov said last month that ending the regime could lead to the withdrawal of about 20,000 ministry troops from Chechnya. But Panchenkov said at least one Interior Ministry brigade and a division of military troops would remain in the republic.

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