Chess masters seek to oust Russian "alien spotter"

Wed Sep 8, 2010 1:01pm EDT
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By Maria Golovnina

LONDON (Reuters) - The stepping down of a remote Russian regional leader who once claimed to have been abducted by aliens has set off an unexpected battle for the world's most important chess job.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the impoverished Buddhist region of Kalmykia, is better known outside Russia as head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), one of the world's largest sports organizations.

Accused in the West of corruption and rights violations, Ilyumzhinov said this week he would not seek a new term as Kalmykia's president when his current tenure expires in October.

His announcement has set off moves by his FIDE opponents to oust Ilyumzhinov from the chess governing body, where the Kalmyk leader has long been accused of corruption.

"The key issue is reputation. There has been a total loss of reputation," said Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion who is leading the FIDE campaign.

"We are facing a very formidable enemy. But we believe that chess deserves better," Kasparov, also a fierce Kremlin critic, told reporters at an old chess venue in central London.

Watched keenly by chess fans around the world, the intrigue also offers a glimpse into the murky world of Russian politics where Ilyumzhinov's departure is seen as part of Kremlin efforts to oust 1990s-era leaders from the political scene.

Kasparov's allies have nominated former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov -- Kasparov's one-time rival across the board -- to replace Ilyumzhinov in a FIDE election due later this month.   Continued...