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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Officials: 7 Civilians Killed in Grozny

At least seven civilians have been shot to death in the Chechen capital, Grozny, Russian officials said Tuesday, blaming the attacks on insurgents seeking to stoke violence in the rebel republic.

All the victims, killed during the past three days, were found in Grozny's Leninsky district, officials said.

"Five elderly women, the oldest of them aged 65, and two middle-aged men were brutally killed by bandits," a spokesman for the Interior Ministry forces in the Caucasus, Yury Boronyuk, said in remarks broadcast on Russian television.

All were ethnic Russians, and all were shot in the head, Boronyuk said.

But the Russian Defense Ministry and Chechnya's top prosecutor, Vsevolod Chernov, said 10 civilians had been murdered. The victims included eight Russians and two Chechens, the Interfax news agency reported. The reports could not immediately be reconciled.

"It is possible that this is yet another raid by militants who are unhappy about the restoration of peace, and who therefore try to destabilize the situation in every possible way," Chernov said.

Large-scale fighting in Chechnya ended months ago - though rebels continue to inflict daily casualties on Russian forces - and the military has begun a limited pullout of its troops.

Meanwhile, hundreds of women blocked the main road running across Chechnya, demanding an end to alleged abuses by the Russian military and countless civilian deaths. Concrete blocks, tree trunks and burnt cars were piled on a 1.5-kilometer stretch of the road in eastern Chechnya, as the protesters sat on the highway and on the roadsides, Interfax reported.

A van parked by the roadside was decorated with a sign that read: "Say 'no' to murders, mopping-up operations, robbery and [detention] camps."

The Russian prosecutor-general said Tuesday that his representatives in Chechnya would concentrate on protecting the rights of the republic's residents.

"Not a single crime, not a single violation of human rights and liberties will remain unnoticed or unpunished," Vladimir Ustinov was quoted as saying by Interfax. He spoke at Russia's main military base of Khankala, just outside Grozny, where he arrived to investigate alleged summary executions of civilians and suspected rebels by Russian troops.

Russian troops have been accused of torture, killings and brutal treatment of Chechen civilians, but few of the cases have been investigated, much less prosecuted. In a rare exception, the commander of a tank regiment, Colonel Yury Budanov, is currently on trial in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don for abducting and killing a young Chechen woman.

Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya in a humiliating defeat in the previous, 1994-6 war. The troops returned in 1999, after rebels invaded a neighboring Russian region and after apartment building bombings, blamed on rebels, killed 300 people in Moscow and other cities.