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Policemen Eyed in Chechnya Blast

October 12, 2002

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VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) _ A deadly explosion that ripped through a police station in the Chechen capital Grozny might have been set off by officers who were about to be fired, an official said Saturday.

The blast Thursday tore a huge hole in the four-story building where senior Chechen police officials were holding a meeting. Russian television reported Saturday that the death toll had risen to 25.

Although no one has been detained, a prosecutor in the region speculated that police officers on the verge of being fired might have been responsible.

``A personnel purge was planned,″ said Vladimir Kravchenko, the department chief of the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office in the Southern Federal District.

``Some police officers were to be fired, and this could have been a preemptive strike,″ Kravchenko said in remarks broadcast on Russian television.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that law enforcement agencies in Chechnya needed to be strengthened.

``Strengthening local law enforcement agencies is absolutely correct,″ Putin said in a meeting with senior government officials. He did not refer directly to the blast, but said ``bandits do not choose to strike this division accidentally.″

Meanwhile, fighting in Chechnya persisted despite Russian claims that most of the rebels have been eliminated.

At least six Russian servicemen and 11 were wounded in a series of rebel attacks on federal positions and mine explosions over the past 24 hours, an official in the Moscow-backed administration said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Russian forces rolled into Chechnya in a bid to crush its separatist leadership, but withdrew in 1996 and left the region with de-facto independence. They returned in September 1999 after rebels raided a neighboring region and Russian authorities blamed rebels for apartment-building bombings that killed more than 300 people in Russia.

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