Hollywood stars fly in on Chechen leader's birthday

Jean-Claude Van Damme and Hilary Swank wish Ramzan Kadyrov a happy birthday

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The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has held a star-studded party in his capital Grozny - but denied it was anything to do with his 35th birthday.

Guests flown in for the occasion included Hollywood actors Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the violinist Vanessa Mae.

Mr Kadyrov had banned all public celebrations of his 35th birthday.

But it just so happens to coincide with Grozny City Day, the anniversary of the founding of the city.

The Chechen leader had said his birthday should not be celebrated, and had warned that any official trying to give him a present would be sacked.

The reality was rather different.

'Happy birthday Mr President'

In Grozny, which just a few years ago had been reduced to rubble by two wars, a laser show lit up shiny new skyscrapers, while Chechen sword dancers spun around on a giant stage.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (right) dances during the party in Grozny 5 Oct 2011 The appearance of Hollywood stars at Ramzan Kadyrov's party could anger human rights activists

With Mr Kadyrov watching in the front row, on came the Hollywood stars.

First was Belgian martial arts movie actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, who ended his speech by yelling: "I love you Mr Kadyrov!"

Hollywood actress Hillary Swank was next on stage.

"Happy birthday Mr President," she said.

And then violinist Vanessa Mae performed. She is reported to have been paid $500,000 (£324,000) to attend.

When asked where all the money was coming from, Mr Kadyrov laughed.

"Allah gives it to us," he told reporters.

The appearance of the Western celebrities is likely to anger human rights activists who accuse the Chechen warlord and his forces of torture and murder of his opponents.

They say he has turned Chechnya into his own fiefdom with a cult of personality.

His father Akhmad Kadyrov switched sides between the two Chechen wars, helping Russia to win the second conflict.

In revenge he was killed by a massive bomb attack by Islamist militants in 2004.

Ramzan Kadyrov is a strong supporter of the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

Earlier reports suggested the Hollywood actor Kevin Costner was at the event in Grozny but it was later confirmed that he did not attend.

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