Rebels blow up police car in Chechen capital

NAZRAN, Russia - Rebels blew up a police car in Chechnya's capital, killing two civilians as the province prepared to elect a deputy to parliament, the military said Thursday.

Four Russian police officers were wounded in the attack Wednesday evening in Grozny, the military command was quoted by Interfax as saying. The car had been filled with explosives.

The police had been checking polling stations and sweeping Grozny for rebels as part of heightened security ahead of Sunday's elections for a member of Russia's parliament from Chechnya, Interfax said.

Federal forces have been unable to prevent rebels from staging attacks and planting mines deep in Russian-controlled territory in recent days. Gunmen fired at the home of one of the 13 parliament candidates Wednesday, though no casualties were reported.

Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo warned that the rebels, who insist Chechnya is not part of Russia, were planning attacks to disrupt the election.

''The situation in Chechnya is complicated but controllable,'' Rushailo said in Grozny.

Early voting has already started in some areas, including those where Russian troops are based. Parliamentary elections took place in the rest of Russia last December, when federal forces and rebels were engaged in fierce fighting.

Even though Russia still doesn't control all of Chechnya, officials had promised a legislator would be elected this summer.

Refugees in neighboring Ingushetia, who are also eligible to vote from their camps, know almost nothing about the elections.

''What election? Putin was elected. What else do they want from us?'' asked 50-year-old Malika Sutisheva, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

''It is insulting for Chechnya and its citizens. When one-third of Chechens live beyond the territory of Chechnya, it is absurd to elect a parliament deputy from it,'' said Ruslan Salbiyev, 32.

Twenty-two servicemen were killed in Chechnya over the past week and 79 wounded, the Defense Ministry said Thursday. That brings the official count of Russians killed since the start of fighting in the region to 2,625, though independent observers say the toll is much higher.

Russian fighter planes and helicopter gunships flew 42 missions over the past 24 hours, targeting the Vedeno gorge that cuts through the mountains in southeast Chechnya, the military said Thursday.

Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in defeat at the end of a 1994-96 war, then moved back in last September to end the republic's de facto independence. The campaign came after cross-border raids by Islamic militants based in Chechnya last August and subsequent bombings in Russia that Moscow blamed on the rebels.


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