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Chechen Blast Deaths Could Exceed 80

Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW -- Russian officials said Monday that the death toll from Friday’s double suicide attack on the headquarters of the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya could be well over 80, but President Vladimir V. Putin insisted that separatist rebels would have no impact on his policy toward the strife-torn republic.

Russian officials repeatedly refer to the “normalization” of Chechnya, but a tough military approach has failed to subdue the rebels. Guerrilla attacks, mine explosions and skirmishes occur daily, while the rebels stage headline-grabbing attacks every few months.

Monday was a typical day: Four service personnel were killed. Two Russian servicemen were shot dead by snipers in a market in Grozny, the capital; another Russian serviceman died in a mine explosion; and a Chechen policeman was killed by a mine. There were also overnight clashes in Grozny between rebels and Russian forces.

Meeting with members of his government, Putin said Monday that the rebels would not be allowed to derail the normalization of Chechnya.

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The Kremlin has announced that a referendum will be held in the republic in March to confirm Chechnya as a part of Russia, set down a constitution and establish elections, thus sidestepping the rebels who vehemently oppose Moscow’s rule.

Russian media reported Tuesday that the death toll from Friday’s bombing had reached 83, up from 61 a day earlier, and Chechnya’s Moscow-appointed prime minister, Stanislav Ilyasov, said the number could be well over 80.

A terrorist attack by Chechen rebels on a Moscow theater in October resulted in the deaths of 129 people, but all but two of them were killed by the sleeping gas used when Russian authorities stormed the theater.

“It is overwhelmingly clear to politicians and ordinary citizens alike -- we are talking about another attempt to derail the political process in Chechnya,” Putin said of the attack in Grozny.

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“The terrorists are using the cruelest methods to achieve that, but they will fail,” he said.

Putin has faced international criticism over the actions by Russian troops in Chechnya, but he argues that the rebels there are akin to Al Qaeda. Since the attack, Moscow has renewed its accusations that the rebels are part of the international terrorist network and are receiving funding from Arab countries.

Russian officials continued Monday to try to link the attack to Aslan Maskhadov, a prominent rebel leader who was formerly the elected president of Chechnya. His spokesman has denied he had any role.


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