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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grenade Kills Three At Grozny Protest

A grenade exploded in the midst of demonstrators on the central square of the Chechen capital Friday, killing three people and wounding at least seven of the protesters who for five days have been keeping vigil to demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from the shattered republic.


There were conflicting reports out of Grozny on the origin of the blast, with the Russian Interior Ministry blaming the demonstrators and Interfax reporting that the grenade had killed two civilians and one policeman when it exploded 11:55 a.m., local time.


Although tensions eased toward evening, when Reuters reported Russian troops withdrawing from the square, the incident and the demonstration itself drove home the difficulty of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's newly acquired task to find a solution to the conflict within two weeks.


In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin lashed out at critics of the war, particularly Nizhny Novgorod governor Boris Nemtsov, who last week presented Yeltsin with a petition signed by one million people demanding an end to the 14-month conflict.


"Do I want this war? No. The military do not want this war, the people do not want it, the world does not want it. Let him gather a billion signatures. It will not help. If Nemtsov would only tell us how to resolve the matter, then we would be grateful," he told a gathering of advisers Friday.


The tension in Grozny has been escalating steadily since Grozny was sealed off by a triple ring of Interior Ministry troops and police.


But in the wake of the grenade blast, the troops withdrew Friday evening and several hundred protesters prepared to spend yet another night in the tent village which they called "Duki Yurt," after Dudayev's childhood nickname, Itar-Tass reported.


It was difficult even to pinpoint the number of casualties in Friday's explosion, because relatives removed some of the victims, an official of the Interior Ministry in Chechnya told Interfax.


Reuters quoted an anonymous military source as suggesting a demonstrator may have fired a grenade launcher into the crowd. The Interior Ministry said the grenade had exploded by accident as it was smuggled in among the demonstrators. Other reports said that there were three explosions, apparently from within the presidential palace.


The protesters have been demanding complete and immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Chechnya, but that seems unlikely for now.


The government issued a statement Friday saying that "federal troops would be withdrawn from the Chechen Republic, but only when the necessary conditions are created for the safety of the population."


The government would not abandon the population of Chechnya to "arbitrary rule" or allow them to become "hostages to pro-Dudayev extremists," the statement continued.


Ruslan Khasbulatov, ex-speaker of the Russian parliament and, briefly, a candidate for the presidency of Chechnya, told a roundtable meeting in Moscow on Friday that withdrawal of federal troops would not destabilize the local situation.


"It would not entail bloodshed or slaughter," Interfax quotes him as saying. "The conflict in Chechnya is beneficial only for the authorities. It could have been settled long ago."


On Thursday, Yeltsin had submitted seven options for settling the conflict to a committee headed to be headed by Chernomyrdin. The committee will have two weeks in which to consider the different versions and come up with a solution.


In Friday's meeting with the Presidential Council, advisers pelted the president with still more suggestions for ending the bloodshed. After three hours of intense debate, Yeltsin decided to work on an eighth plan.


"There were so many interesting proposals, different from the seven I have already spoken about, that we have decided to form a commission of the Presidential Council to put the proposals together," Yeltsin told reporters after the meeting.


The commission will be made up of 12 members from the 24-member Presidential Council, and will be headed by council member Emil Pain -- an adviser on nationalities questions.


The president also said that all members of the council had urged him to run for a second term.


Yeltsin has made no secret of the fact that he fears the Chechen conflict could derail his bid for reelection, and he will need to find an acceptable solution before the June 16 ballot.


Some analysts predict Chernomyrdin will become the scapegoat for the government's disastrous policies, including Chechnya. With Yeltsin so obviously handing over responsibility for developing a viable peace plan to the prime minister, it is quite possible that his will be the head to roll in the event of failure.


"Chechnya is the biggest hot potato in government circles right now," said Viktor Kuvaldin, an analyst at the Gorbachev Foundation. "Someone is going to have to pay for Chechnya, and it will have to be before the elections."


Sergei Markov, senior associate at the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, told NTV television Thursday that Chernomyrdin would be brought to task for all of the government's failings.


"Chernomyrdin will be the sacrifice on the altar of Yeltsin's presidential campaign," he said. "Chernomyrdin will be guilty of everything."