West tells Russia to declare a ceasefire

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WESTERN POWERS, shocked by the prospect of a "bloodbath" in Grozny, demanded an immediate ceasefire in Chechnya yesterday, warning Russia that it risked becoming an international pariah.

A dramatic eye-witness account of the dire situation in the Chechen capital set the mood for the G-8 foreign ministers' meeting in Berlin, which broke up in disarray, with Russia's Igor Ivanov absent from the final line-up.

It had been an unpleasant day for Mr Ivanov, having to listen for three hours to the world's leading diplomats assailing his country's barbarism. Proceedings opened with a report from Knut Vollebaek, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, fresh from his fact-finding trip to Chechnya.

Mr Vollebaek did not mince his words. The so-called "humanitarian corridors" Russian troops were opening and closing at whim were unsafe and inadequate, he reported. There were 45,000 civilians trapped in the line of Russian tanks' fire in the Chechen capital.

"We urgently need a ceasefire, otherwise there will be a bloodbath... because there will be major fighting," warned Mr Vollebaeck, who had undertaken the journey as Chairman of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

"Grozny will not fall easily," he said.