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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Heavy Fire Batters Center of Grozny

GROZNY -- The Russian Army pounded the city center with withering rocket and artillery fire Friday, trying to grind down rebel Chechen troops still holding key positions in the shattered capital.


In the evening the Defense Ministry said Russian troops had taken control of the Chechen government headquarters -- a "key target" adjacent to President Dzhokhar Dudayev's palace.


A ministry statement said the troops "effectively have full control" of the main square in the Chechen capital Grozny. The statement, quoted by Interfax, said Russian troops had also blockaded the nearby Chechen Interior Ministry and security service buildings. Justice Minister Valentin Kovalyov said earlier that Russian troops were encountering resistance only from the Presidential Palace and three other buildings in Grozny.


Earlier, Russian commanders appeared to be using their massive artillery strength to try to break the Chechen resistance and clear the way for Russian ground attacks. Fierce fighting flared around the railway station and the Presidential Palace was again hit by concentrated artillery fire.


It was the second day of major artillery attacks with dozens of Grad rockets slamming into southern districts of the city where Chechen fighters were concentrated.


Huge Russian columns with dozens of armored vehicles were again seen Friday moving up to Grozny as the army brought in more reinforcements.


Russian troops to the north of Grozny said they were confident of taking the city within the next few days.


Chechen fighters said they still held the Presidential Palace, the symbol of their independence drive, but admitted it was difficult to get supplies through to the defenders remaining inside the smashed building.


Most fighters were sheltering in basements and tunnels in the center. They were tired and somber, but said they were determined to continue fighting.


The streets of Grozny, once a city of 400,000, were almost empty. A few very scared civilians tried to get out of the city, carrying plastic bags of possessions. Other residents, mostly elderly Russians, huddled in overcrowded and cold basements, too terrified to move.


"This is (President Boris) Yeltsin's agony," said one Chechen fighter, who said his first name was Tagir. Despite being outmanned and outgunned, the Chechens claimed they were inflicting major losses on the Russians.


Some Russian soldiers admitted their forces were taking heavy casualties.


"No one likes this war. We've lost so many of our men -- we think maybe 2,000 of our soldiers have been killed," said a lieutenant who would only give his first name, Vladimir.


The Russians, based in the north of Grozny, seemed to be pushing south into the center and trying to ring the area around the palace. In Moscow officials discussed what type of government should rule in Grozny and what reconstruction work needed to be done.


Among the latest refugees, the Russian government press service claimed, were officials of the rebel government who were planning to fly abroad from neighboring Ingushetia. (AP, Reuters)