Chechnya skyscraper fire 'God's will'

Chechnya strongman Ramzan Kadyrov sought Thursday to play down a massive fire that ravaged a skyscraper symbolising the mainly Muslim Russian region's recovery from war, putting the incident down to "God's will".

Kadyrov vowed that the damaged high-rise, one of a complex of seven skyscrapers located in the Chechen capital Grozny and dubbed Grozny City, would be rebuilt and even held a instant online competition to choose the best design.

The 40-storey building in the centre of Grozny, which was the focus of two post-Soviet wars between the Kremlin and separatists, was consumed by huge flames Wednesday evening and firefighters took seven hours to extinguish the fire.

The regional government said after an emergency meeting late Wednesday that the cause of the blaze was a short circuit in the air conditioning system on the building's outer wall.

"Only the outer part of the building suffered and not the construction itself," Kadyrov wrote on his official Instagram photo-sharing account that he is using with increasing frequency.

"All necessary measures to preserve it were undertaken. But a fire happens according to the will of the almighty and against HIS will we are powerless," he added.

The increasingly devout Muslim Kadyrov has sought to draw positive publicity for Chechnya with projects like Grozny City despite continuing unrest in the Caucasus.

He accused some people of writing "any kind of rubbish" on the Internet about the consequences of the fire. "Allah be their judge," he commented.

The building hit by the fire is topped by a giant clock and stands 145 metres (475 feet) tall. The clock, which Chechen officials like to boast is one of the biggest in the world, has now stopped, Russian media reports said.

Kadyrov later took to Instagram again to post two possible designs for a new facade of the skyscraper and said it was up to his Internet followers to choose.

Some 1,000 users chose a futurist-looking design which Kadyrov said will "work in the architecture ensemble of our beautiful city".

The winning design can be viewed at

The 2011 unveiling of the apartment complex, which was timed for Kadyrov's 35th birthday, was attended by world famous celebrities including actress Hilary Swank and violinist Vanessa Mae.

Earlier this year, Kadyrov handed Gerard Depardieu keys to an apartment in the Grozny City complex after President Vladimir Putin granted the French actor Russian citizenship.

But his new apartment did not suffer any damage, Kadyrov's spokesman said Thursday. "Depardieu's apartment is in a completely different building," Alvi Karimov told AFP.

The building hit by the fire had yet to be commissioned and no-one was hurt in the fire.

A former insurgent who prefers sports suits to formal wear, Kadyrov took power in Chechnya after his father, Akhmat Kadyrov, was killed in a bomb attack as he attended a Victory Day concert in the volatile region in 2004.

Ramzan Kadyrov has brought a degree of stability to his volatile region but activists say this was at the price of brutal rights violations.