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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rally Goes On Despite Threat

GROZNY -- Chechnya's pro-Moscow leaders vowed Wednesday to break up a four-day-old rally demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the rebel region, but hundreds of Chechens defied the warning.

Itar-Tass said local government officials had decided to end the protest in front of the gutted former presidential palace in the heart of the devastated Chechen capital, Grozny.

"The government can no longer tolerate the presence of many armed people among the demonstrators," Itar-Tass quoted Abdulla Bugayev, a deputy leader of the Kremlin-backed Chechen authorities, as saying.

Bugayev said his forces would open fire if they meet any armed resistance when dispersing the rally.

"We will respond adequately if the fighters use weapons," he was quoted as saying.

But hours after the decision, the situation remained calm and more than 1,000 protesters were still gathered at a square in front of the former presidential palace, once headquarters to separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Some were preparing for a long stay by erecting shelters from wooden fences. Others took turns on a makeshift podium to blast the Russian military campaign, launched in December 1994, and demand independence for the tiny mountainous region.

There was no sign of Russian troops being moved up to the square in preparation to end the rally.

In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin's envoy to Chechnya appeared to play down suggestions that the Kremlin leader would bow to public demands to withdraw troops from Chechnya in a planned new initiative to end the 14-month-old conflict.

Speaking after a meeting of Yeltsin's top advisory body, the Security Council, envoy Oleg Lobov suggested Yeltsin might unveil the plan in mid-February.

At a news conference at a secret location in the south of the territory Monday, Dudayev attacked Western powers for what he described as "collaboration with Russia" and suggested Chechen fighters might carry out guerrilla operations in Western Europe.

"It is Western Europe -- Britain, France and others -- which is to blame for what is happening in Chechnya ... We will wait and see and, if the appropriate moment comes, we will get as far as Western Europe," Dudayev said.