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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Rebels, Russian Troops Fight in Gudermes

Russian forces fought street battles throughout Sunday with Chechen rebels in Gudermes, the restive region's second town, and both sides reported casualties.

Itar-Tass quoted Interior Ministry officials as saying fighting broke out in the late morning when rebels fired on a police post, killing an officer of the crack OMON riot police force.

A bomb exploded in a cafe at about the same time, injuring several civilians. Rebels also opened fire on a checkpoint leading out of the town, injuring two men at the post.

Itar-Tass said fighting raged through the streets until about 6 p.m. when the rebels fled under cover of darkness. Their casualties were being checked, it said.

Rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said fighters had killed at least 20 Russian soldiers and two pro-Moscow Chechen policemen in simultaneous attacks on military targets in the town, about 30 kilometers east of the region's devastated capital, Grozny.

The rebels suffered only three wounded, he said by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.

"These attacks are the fulfillment of a plan drawn up in October to attack the Russian occupiers in places where they are concentrated," Udugov said.

No one was available to comment at the office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the main Kremlin spokesman on Chechnya.

Russian troops are nominally in charge of most Chechen territory after a 15-month offensive and President Vladimir Putin is extending powers to pro-Moscow Chechen leaders to try to restore the region's economy and institutions.

Putin signed a decree extending the powers of local leaders on Friday, a day after he told ministers to draft proposals on reducing troops and boosting the economy.

Russian military chiefs have said they want to use small, mobile units to eliminate the rebels. But troops remain subject to ambushes and at least 2,500 have died in the current drive.

Udugov's account of Sunday's fighting differed little from the Itar-Tass report. He said battles went on into the early evening, with scattered gunfire continuing into the night.

But he said rebel forces shot dead three soldiers in the cafe before attacking armored vehicles patrolling the city, firing a shell at one that was sent to the cafe.

He said Russian forces had then sealed off the town and sent in reinforcements from other bases. Rebels also killed two Russian servicemen in an attack on an armored vehicle in Alkhan-Khala, west of Grozny, he said.

Udugov said Friday that rebel forces had attacked an OMON barracks in the heart of Argun, just east of Grozny. He said at least 15 Russians had died in that attack.