Grozny heaps humiliation on invaders

CHECHNYA: MUTED PROTEST FROM WESTERN EUROPE AND THE US AS MUDDLED MILIT ARY CAMPAIGN THREATENS TO SPIN OUT OF CONTROL
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The Independent Online
Russia's prediction that it would capture Grozny without force was exposed as nonsense yesterday as Chechen warriors fought prolonged battles to keep their capital out of Russian hands. There were also conflicting reports of a Russian air strike o n the Chechen presidential palace.

President Boris Yeltsin, reacting to heavy domestic and foreign criticism of his military crackdown in Chechnya, ordered a halt to the bombing of Grozny on Wednesday night. One of his senior advisers on the crisis, Nikolai Yegorov, predicted that Grozny would fall without a fight by yesterday and a new pro-Moscow Chechen government would be installed.

Not only did clashes continue near Grozny's railway station and in other parts of Chechnya, but the Chechen government-in-waiting sent Russian policy into turmoil by denouncing air strikes on Chechen civilians. "We demand that the facts of air strikes and bombardment be investigated and that measures be taken to punish those responsible," said a statement signed by Salambek Khadzhiyev, the man picked by Moscow to replace the rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Russian MPs said Russian bombs had fallen on Grozny's Zavod district, a site for oil storage tanks. However, the armed forces denied attacking Grozny from the air and said the only planes in action had been operating outside the capital against "Dudayev strongholds, troops and armour". The interior ministry confirmed that it had used helicopter gunships to attack Chechen forces outside Grozny.

The credibility of Mr Yeltsin's Chechnya policy was left in shreds by the fighting, the failure to take Grozny and the criticism of Russia by anti-Dudayev Chechens previously thought to be Moscow loyalists. Heaping humiliation upon humiliation, Russia's

human rights commissioner, Sergei Kovalyov, said that no official Russian statements could be trusted. "As regards lies, we have surpassed the Communists and even Goebbels," he said.

Moscow newspapers continued to deride Mr Yeltsin, and even Sergei Shakhrai, the man entrusted with the task of presenting the Kremlin's case to the public, called the war a failure.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, citing local authorities in Chechnya, said 1,700 people had been wounded since the crackdown started on 11 December.

The dead are thought to number hundreds, while 130,000 people have fled Chechnya.

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