Russia says blast will not alter Chechnya plans

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The Independent Online

As rescue workers searched unsuccessfully yesterday for survivors amid the rubble of Chechnya's government headquarters, Russian politicians insisted they would press ahead with plans to impose peace on the rebellious territory.

As rescue workers searched unsuccessfully yesterday for survivors amid the rubble of Chechnya's government headquarters, Russian politicians insisted they would press ahead with plans to impose peace on the rebellious territory.

Suicide bombers in Russian uniforms drove trucks with military numberplates through checkpoints around the building on Friday before detonating bombs with a combined force equivalent to half a ton of TNT. At least 55 people were killed and 123 injured.

The bombings dealt a severe blow to President Putin's efforts to portray Chechnya as returning to normal after more than three years of fighting between Russian forces and separatist guerrillas. The author- ities blamed the attack on the separatist president, Aslan Maskhadov, ousted by Russian forces in 1999, but in a statement posted yesterday on rebel websites, he condemned the bombings, telling the perpetrators: "I understand you but I cannot support you. The Kremlin uses any means to link Chechens to international terrorism. Our task is not to prove them right."

Russia flew in emergency workers and several tons of food and medicines yesterday to help in the rescue effort. At the scene of the blasts, a construction crane removed large pieces of debris. Workers piled corpses and body parts in front of the building as a crowd gathered outside the security gate, waiting in the cold for news of lost relatives.

Russia wants to sideline rebel leaders by pressing ahead with a new regional constitution and elections. "We should not lapse into any extraordinary measures, we should not panic," said Viktor Ozerov, a deputy in the Federation Council upper chamber.

And the Russian Foreign Ministry – which rarely comments on internal affairs – said that the blasts would not upset the political process in the region.

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