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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebels Launch Offensive on Grozny

COMBINED REPORTS


Fierce fighting raged in the Chechen capital Grozny on Wednesday after rebels launched a surprise offensive at dawn, seizing control of parts of the city and humiliating the Kremlin just one day after Defense Minister Pavel Grachev paid the city a visit.


The war-ravaged city shook with the sounds of heavy artillery, helicopter rocket fire and rocket-propelled grenades as Russian troops battled rebel fighters on several fronts, said an observer contacted by telephone, who asked not to be named.


An official of the Federal Security Service based in Grozny told Itar-Tass the situation was "critical." NTV said that federal forces in the city were virtually neutralized in the first half of the day.


"I have not seen such fighting here since Grozny was taken," said a local journalist, speaking by telephone from the city. Most of the Chechen capital was destroyed by Russian air and artillery attacks before being captured in February 1995.


About 300 rebels attacked at dawn from several directions, striking Russian checkpoints on the southern outskirts of Grozny and then moving deeper into the city, Itar-Tass said.


Russian tanks were moved into the downtown area, and reinforcements were rushed to besieged Russian positions. Guerrilla fighters seized at least two police stations, setting them on fire, and made repeated attempts to reach the airport, news reports said.


A reporter for Russian Television said the fighters had seized control of the Interior Ministry building. They had attacked the city from five different points, with some fight into Chechnya's towns and countryside.


The Kremlin-backed Chechen government broadcast appeals for calm to a terrified populace, Itar-Tass said.


The rebels' action in Grozny increased the pressure on President Boris Yeltsin, who, desperate to find a peaceful solution before June elections, has called a session of his Security Council for Thursday to examine peace options.


The commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, linked the attack on Grozny to the Security Council meeting. He told Itar-Tass the rebels wanted to "show off their strength on the eve of the meeting.''


Sporadic shooting and explosions were still going on Wednesday evening. The rebels were apparently in control of the Oktyabrsky, Zavodskoi and Staropromyslovsky districts, and the Minutka roundabout area, just 10 minutes walk from the central government buildings, independent NTV television said.


The attack -- the first real attempt by the separatists to win back control of Grozny which they lost in February 1995 -- followed a broadcast warning Tuesday by Dudayev.


"The city of Grozny will be taken. There will be no mercy for Chechen traitors," Dudayev said in an appearance on rebel television with field commander Shamil Basayev.


There was further humiliation for the Kremlin in the course of the offensive Wednesday when Dudayev broke into a broadcast by ORT, Russian television's first channel, at 6 p.m. to announce the action was taking place on his orders.


His men were under orders to take the main administrative building in Grozny, Itar-Tass reported him saying.


In the southern Russian town of Krasnodar, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev shrugged off the attack, saying "nothing out of the ordinary" was taking place. Interfax quoted Grachev, a military hawk who visited Chechnya earlier this week, as saying the situation in Grozny was "under control."


"One does not need 100 people to aggravate the situation in the city,'' Interfax quoted Grachev as saying. "Five to six rebels firing in three or four districts would be enough to trigger panic.''


The surprise attack on Grozny came during a Russian assault on the town of Sernovodsk, about 45 kilometers west of Grozny. An unknown number of civilians have been killed and at least 16,000 people have fled the former resort town since the Russian assault began Sunday.


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Russian forces fired on Sernovodsk Wednesday from tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships, Interfax said.


Russian troops were refusing to let men between the ages of 18 and 55 -- fighting age -- leave Sernovodsk, which is, the report said.