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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Huge Car Bomb Kills Eleven in Chechnya

GROZNY -- A powerful car bomb in the center of Chechnya's capital killed at least 11 people and injured more than 60 on Monday, leaving a swathe of destruction in the most serious attack in the city since the June cease-fire.

The bomb went off shortly after noon outside the headquarters of the Moscow-backed government in the breakaway republic, Itar-Tass reported.

The explosion, which came just a week before the first anniversary of Russia's military intervention in the territory, blasted a two-meter-wide crater in the road outside the regional administration building.

Almost all the windows in the gray, five-story structure were blown out and Russian television showed pictures of a burning, damaged vehicle outside. The dead body of a woman lay amid the charred mangled wrecks of some 15 cars.

Interfax cited Vladimir Zorin, first deputy head of the Russian administration in Grozny, as saying 11 people had died and more than 60 were injured, a dozen seriously. Several of the injured were children, NTV independent television reported.

One of the dead was an Interfax driver who had been parked almost next to the car bomb, the agency said. His car was thrown about 10 meters away, it said.

Itar-Tass reported that cars several meters away from the booby-trapped vehicle were damaged or destroyed. Police at the scene said the death toll could rise.

The explosion was the latest of a series of blasts targeting Russian troops, Russian officials and the Russian-backed Chechen leadership.

Russia and Chechen rebels agreed on a shaky ceasefire in June, but there have been a handful of casualties every week since in skirmishes more or less ignored outside Russia when his motorcade was attacked in Grozny in early November.

It was the third attempt on the life of a pro-Moscow official in two months. General Anatoly Romanov, former Chief of Russian forces in Chechnya, still lies in a coma in a Moscow hospital after a bomb exploded as his car was passing beneath an underpass in central Grozny in October. Oleg Lobov, President Boris Yeltsin's special envoy in Chechnya, escaped injury in a similar attack in September.

Zavgayev connected Monday's bomb with the approaching elections. He signed a statement calling for the arrest of those responsible for what it called a "barbaric and senselessly ruthless explosion in a busy downtown street."

The bomb marked the beginning of a wave of terror against the population of the republic to intimidate them on the eve of the elections, the statement said.

Chechen rebels, determined not to give in to strong-arm Moscow tactics, have threatened to disrupt any attempts to hold Russia's national election and a poll for a new regional leader in the territory Dec. 17.

Candidates for the post of Chechen leader include Zavgayev and Yeltsin's old foe Ruslan Khasbulatov, who registered himself as a candidate on Monday.

Khasbulatov, 53, an ethnic Chechen, led a 1993 parliamentary rebellion in Moscow that Yeltsin crushed with tanks. He said he agreed to run despite concern over the bomb attacks and doubts that the polls would go ahead.

"They are trying to force blitz elections on us without preparing the necessary conditions," he told reporters on Saturday. "But who will take responsibility if conflicts begin?" Other candidates are newspaper editor Movsar Aduyev and Lecha Saligov, chairman of the republic's publishing committee.

Lecha Magomadov, who heads the Committee for National Accord and is No. 2 in the Moscow-installed Chechen government, meanwhile said he was withdrawing from elections to the State Duma, to be held the same day in Chechnya. Magomadov said he decided to quit because "it is impossible to ensure democratic elections in Chechnya," Interfax reported Sunday.

In Moscow, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin vowed in a television interview Saturday that the Kremlin would do everything in its power to end the war.

Lobov confirmed Sunday that Moscow planned to offer the region a special status inside Russia, but ruled out full independence.

He said a treaty was being worked out to let Chechnya have a big say in running its own affairs. "A treaty is now being drafted on the basis for relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic," Lobov told ORT television in an interview.

"The first clause of this draft treaty says that the Russian Federation recognizes that the Chechen Republic must have a special status. What does that mean? It means that authority over state affairs will to a large extent be handed directly to the Chechen Republic," he said.

The television quoted Lobov as saying Chechnya would be granted a considerable degree of independence in foreign trade matters, but that Russia would retain control over the currency system, army and external borders.

(AP, Reuters, MT)