GROZNY, Russia Female civil servants must wear Islamic headscarves or be fired, the maverick head of Russia's Chechnya region said on Tuesday, an edict that may put him at odds with his secular masters in Moscow.
The Kremlin installed 30-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov as Chechnya's president to crush a decade-old separatist insurgency, but some observers say he has turned the region into a private fiefdom where Russian laws are flouted.
Russian law separates the state from religion and gives both sexes equal rights. But Kadyrov, who this year made a pilgrimage to Muslim holy sites in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, said Chechnya had different traditions.
"I know everyone will say, 'Ramzan declares (rigid Islamic) sharia law'. But I reply that I am a Muslim, I respect Chechen traditions, and I am proud of this," Kadyrov, son of a Muslim cleric, told a meeting of local officials.
"I repeat once again -- women must either wear headscarves, or they should not work (for state institutions)," he said. "You may say I make unlawful statements, but I will not back down."
Kadyrov said he had been "literally shocked seeing our young women walking around in T-shirts and miniskirts in our city (Chechen capital Grozny)".
A keen amateur boxer who kept a lion as a pet, Kadyrov said women were the root of all crime committed in Chechnya because they were inviting men to have sex with them.
Families often declare blood feuds on men they believed have dishonoured their daughters, and in some cases they also kill their daughter for bringing shame on the family. "This only complicates the work of the police," Kadyrov said.
Kadyrov's hardline policies and the cult of personality he has built around himself make many Russian officials uneasy, but they are unlikely to take any action against him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin came to office seven years ago pledging to defeat Chechen separatists and he personally awarded Kadyrov Russia's highest honour for his work in stamping out the insurgency.
Analysts say that for Putin, who is to step down next year, turning on his protege Kadyrov over his unorthodox policies would mean losing face.