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Chechnya begins mourning as death toll rises
VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- Chechen rebels staged attacks on pro-Moscow forces in the capital Grozny on Monday, killing four people, as the republic began three days of mourning for dozens killed in last week's bombing of Chechnya's government headquarters.
The death toll from Friday's attack rose to 83 people, according to NTV television. More than 160 people also were injured when suicide bombers rammed two explosives-filled trucks into the Grozny government compound. Some victims were evacuated to Moscow and other cities to ease the burden on the Chechen capital's overwhelmed hospitals.
Fifteen people remained in critical condition, the Interfax news agency said.
Violence continued in the city Monday, with two Russian servicemen shot to death in the middle of a crowded market, a law enforcement official said. The assailants fled.
In addition, a Chechen police officer and a Russian serviceman were killed in landmine explosions, the official said on condition of anonymity. And rebels clashed with Russian forces in Grozny four times overnight, wounding two servicemen.
President Vladimir Putin, in his first public statement about Friday's bombing, vowed not to let it interfere efforts to find a political solution to the three-year conflict.
"This was an attempt to disrupt the political process in Chechnya," Putin told his Cabinet in televised remarks.
Russian officials have repeatedly said the attack was aimed at derailing plans for a constitutional referendum in March.
As an internal Russian republic, Chechnya is entitled to its own constitution outlining the regional government structure. But the constitution would be subordinate to Russian law, and there is no talk of giving Chechnya greater autonomy than other Russian regions.
Russian forces continued to hunt for people involved in the bombings and have detained 64 people in security sweeps in Grozny, the law enforcement official said.
Chechen administration chief Akhmad Kadyrov declared three days of mourning, forcing the cancellation of all entertainment including public New Year's celebrations. Workers were quickly constructing temporary buildings for the government in Grozny.
Many officials have said the bombing, at one of the most heavily guarded spots in Chechnya, points to major flaws in the work of soldiers in charge of Grozny security.
Chechnya's prime minister, Mikhail Babich, told Channel 1 television that charges would be brought Monday against three members of a riot police force that had been guarding the compound. He said prosecutors continued to investigate other officials who may have been negligent.
Moscow claims international terrorists, teamed with Chechen separatists, staged the bombings. They also blame Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. A Maskhadov spokesman has denied the rebel leader played any role.
Russian officials have tried to eliminate any foreign support for Maskhadov, who was Chechnya's elected president, by emphasizing his alleged links with international terrorists.
Russian troops left Chechnya in 1996 after a disastrous 20-month campaign against the rebels. They returned in 1999 after rebel raids in a neighboring region and a series of apartment-house bombings that killed more than 300 people.