Grozny Palace Slated for Demolition

GROZNY -- The pro-Moscow authorities in Chechnya said Wednesday they have decided to demolish the gutted former presidential palace, a symbol of rebel resistance, and many ordinary Chechens said they were outraged.

Ruslan Martagov, spokesman for the Moscow-installed government of Doku Zavgayev, said the decision to destroy the building, charred by Russian bombing and shelling of Grozny last year, had been made for safety reasons.

"It is in a very dangerous state and because Chechnya is the zone of seismic risks, we cannot leave the building in such a state," Martagov said. He said no date had been set for the demolition of the building, which towers over Grozny.

Rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev was besieged there and came under fierce Russian attack before fleeing almost a year ago to the southern mountains where he is still in hiding.

But many people of Grozny saw the decision as humiliating and an attempt to wipe out the memory of the brutal Russian attacks in January and February last year.

They also suggested the decision was intended to discourage protesters from gathering in front of the building to demand the withdrawal of Russian troops.

"This building should be left. It is a symbol of genocide against the Chechen people," said teacher Aiban Rusunova, 35. "It is a reminder to our children about the war ... Let it be a museum."

The palace was built in 1988 and housed Zavgayev when he was the leader of the local Communist Party branch. Dudayev took it over in 1991 after disbanding the local parliament by force. Moscow had planned to invite a Turkish construction company to restore the building but appears to have changed its mind.

The same company restored the White House parliament building in Moscow after it was damaged by tank shells in October 1993.

Servicemen have started blowing up stairs in the palace to prevent independence supporters from climbing them to hang portraits of Dudayev and green Moslem flags on the building.