Russia grounds air force after fatal crashes

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The Independent Online
The Russian air force has been grounded for a week in a move that marks the deepest humiliation yet to be inflicted on the remnants of the once mighty Soviet military machine.

News agency reports in Moscow said the flying ban was imposed by the head of the force, General Pyotr Deinekin, following two fatal crashes involving military aircraft within five days. Together, these claimed at least 76 lives.

The decision is certain to be seen as a further measure of Russia's plight by the disgruntled military, and particularly by two former generals campaigning to oust Boris Yeltsin - Alexander Lebed and Lev Rokhlin.

According to Russia's Interfax news agency, the grounding does not apply to aircraft on combat duty. On Thursday, eight people were killed when a military An-12 hit a helicopter while landing at Naryan-Mar in Russia's far north. Five days earlier, at least 68 people died when an An-124 cargo plane fell out of the sky. General Deinekin said the grounded aircraft would only be available for "military duties".

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