GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - Lawmakers in Russia's Chechnya region handed strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov a new five-year term on Saturday, unanimously approving the Kremlin nominee in a vote whose outcome was never in doubt.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's nomination of Kadyrov for a new term earlier this week underscored the Kremlin's reliance on the former rebel who rights activists say rules the volatile region by intimidation and abuse.
In power since 2007, Kadyrov will start a new term in April after the unanimous vote in Chechnya's 41-member parliament.
The Kremlin credits Kadyrov with maintaining a shaky peace and rebuilding Chechnya, devastated by two separatist wars since 1994, and relies on him to keep a growing Islamist insurgency across the North Caucasus in check.
But his critics say Kadyrov rules the republic of 1.1 million as a personal fiefdom and directs campaign of violence against his opponents, claims he has repeatedly dismissed as attempts to blacken his name.
"We have built roads, schools, hospitals and homes... We are transforming the republic into one of the best and most prosperous territories not only in the North Caucasus, but in all of Russia," Kadyrov told lawmakers after the vote.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin scrapped popular elections of regional leaders in 2004, during his presidency, moving to strengthen Kremlin control after the Belan school siege in the North Caucasus, in which 331 people were killed.
Regional leaders are now appointed by the president, subject to approval from local legislatures dominated by Putin's ruling United Russia party.
Analysts say that Kadyrov, 34, is also allowed by the Kremlin to implement his radical vision of Islam, which at times contradicts Russia's secular constitution.
A spate of attacks last year on women for not wearing headscarves on city streets in Chechnya angered women who said being forced to dress a certain way violated their rights.
Assailants who said they were under instructions from spiritual authorities targeted some women with paintball pellets. Kadyrov later said he was grateful to the attackers.