Fightback by rebels casts pall on elections

War in Chechnya: Heavy casualties in republic's second city threaten Yeltsin's bid to legitimise puppet regime

Boris Yeltsin's high-risk efforts to legitimise Russia's puppet government in Chechnya by holding elections in the breakaway republic were under threat last night after the war flared anew when rebels stormed into its second largest city, Gudermes.

Helicopter gunships pounded the city centre and there was heavy street fighting, in which at least a dozen people were killed, after Chechen fighters seized a hospital and several buildings, according to news reports from the area.

A statement by the Russian military command in Chechnya said that about 600 rebels took part in the fighting in Gudermes, which lasted all day, and were "hiding in residential areas, actually behind the backs of civilians, and firing at federal troops sent to the town''.

Details of the conflict were still sketchy last night, as Russian troops reportedly had sealed off the entire city, which lay under a veil of black smoke. But one Russian soldier manning a checkpoint about three miles away told Reuters there were "very many" dead and wounded. Another said that the Chechen fighters had "taken almost the entire town", which is about 20 miles east of Grozny.

In June, Chechen rebels took 1,000 people hostage after seizing a hospital in the southern Russian town of Budennovsk in a conflict in which 100 people died. This time - according to the Itar-Tass news agency - they took a hospital, but allowed almost all patients and doctors to leave unharmed, detaining only one person. Reports were trickling in last night of violence in two other towns, Novogroznensky and Shatoi.

The attack came on the first day of voting in local and national elections in Chechnya which the Kremlin - to the astonishment of many observers - has insisted on holding, but which the rebels have long vowed to disrupt.

The Russian authorities decided to open the polling booths for three days, a move which was intended to ensure that enough people vote to make the election legitimate. The threshold has been lowered from the customary 50 per cent turnout to 25 per cent, and numbers have been boosted by allowing those Russian soldiers permanently based in Chechnya to take part.

The chances that the elections in Chechnya will run their course are lessening. There also were exchanges of gunfire in Grozny yesterday, where only one polling booth - used by the local Russian-backed administration - remained open by lunchtime.

The Kremlin wants the election - which is expected to return the present Russian- backed prime minister, Doku Zavgayev, to office - to lend legitimacy to the puppet administration in the republic. It is difficult to believe, however, that anyone beyond a stone's throw from the Red Square will take the results seriously. The poll is not subject to any independent monitoring.

Yesterday's developments will do nothing to improve the standing of President Boris Yeltsin, whose decision to invade Chechnya a year ago caused deep resentment.

Indeed, coming only three days before polls to elect a new State Duma, or lower house, the latest fighting will do little to advance the cause of the government-backed party.

Tomorrow President Yeltsin will addressthe nation. Currying favour among an angry and disillusioned electorate always was going to be an uphill task. Now his job is harder still.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam