Russian tank onslaught on Grozny is repelled

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RUSSIAN TANKS and armoured personnel carriers stormed Grozny for the first time yesterday and were beaten back in bitter street fighting by Chechen defenders near the city centre.

Several burning tanks and APCs were seen by Western journalists in Minutka Square after the Russian attack was halted by rebel fighters firing rocket- propelled grenades.

The bodies of several Russian soldiers were sprawled around the burning wrecks of the vehicles.

The early evening attack was the first time Russian armoured forces had tried to move into Grozny since federal troops encircled the Chechen capital last month.

The attack indicated that Russian commanders were stepping up their efforts to capture the Chechen capital. At least seven Russian tanks and eight APCs managed to get to the square, which is two miles from the centre of Grozny. All of them were destroyed by rebel fire, said Khamzat Gelayev, a rebel commander.

The Russian troops apparently were trapped on the broad square and became confused, making it easier for the rebels to mow them down.

The Russian Defence Ministry said it had no immediate information on the attack. There were apparently few rebel casualties.

The armoured attack came as Russian forces shelled the city nearly round- the-clock, halting the barrage for only about two hours in the afternoon. Plumes of black smoke rose over the city's devastated centre and screaming shells exploded in bright flashes of red and orange.

A senior Russian commander predicted earlier yesterday that Grozny would fall within days, but the rebels are defiantly confident. The fighters "are afraid of nothing but Allah," said the mayor of Grozny, Lechi Dudayev.

The Russians have so far faced limited resistance from the outgunned militants, who have retreated.

Bombardment continues, page 14