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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 October 2005, 19:41 GMT 20:41 UK
Russia mourns Chechen raid deaths
Two local residents mourn the dead in Nalchik
Residents were shocked by the ferocity of the attacks.
Citizens of the Russian region of Kabardino-Balkaria have held a day of mourning in memory of the 36 killed in an attack by Chechen-backed militants.

Flags on government buildings were flown at half-mast, as police checked vehicles and the area returned to calm.

Twelve civilians and 24 members of the security forces died in the violence in Nalchik, with 91 attackers reported to have been killed and some 36 captured.

The rebels are thought to be a mix of local Islamic militants and extremists.

Their aim was to demand independence for Chechnya.

Special forces who fought gun battles in the city streets with the militants on Thursday and Friday were no longer visible by Saturday and life in the capital appeared to be returning to normal.

Local officials said 91 attackers had been killed and at least 36 captured in the attacks, although a Chechen rebel news agency reported that 13 fighters died in Nalchik while four others went missing.

Announcing an end to operations, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of a tough response to any such future attacks.

Nalchik lies in the volatile North Caucasus, where violence has been steadily increasing in recent months.

Russia sent about 1,500 troops and 500 special forces' soldiers to Nalchik after the militants launched a series of attacks on the city and its airport.

'Successful operation'

According to the pro-rebel Kavkaz Center website, the militants fighting in Nalchik belonged to the Caucasus Front - one of six "fronts" designated by Chechen rebels for operations against Russia.

Russian forces fight rebels in Nalchik

A statement by the Caucasus Front HQ accused Russian forces of killing between 70 and 80 civilians in the city.

One of its field commanders, codenamed Amir Assadula, was quoted by Kavkaz Center as saying the operation had been "accomplished successfully" with "minimal" losses and the gain of 300 weapons.

Islamic militants from Yarmuk, a group based in Kabardino-Balkaria, are also said to have taken part in the fighting.

Discontent

The raid is the latest in a series of disturbances that have been destabilising Russia's North Caucasus for more than a year.

Map of Russia's Kabardino-Balkaria province

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says a combination of poverty and iron rule have created a fertile soil for Islamic extremism in the region, exacerbated by an unemployment rate of up to 90%.

Concerned by the spread of extremism, the authorities in Nalchik started closing mosques, our correspondent says, leading to more discontent.

The president of Kabardino-Balkaria, Arsen Kanokov, said on Friday that militants were exploiting poor social conditions.

"The population's low income and unemployment create the soil for religious extremists and other destructive forces to conduct an ideological war against us," he told Russian news agency Interfax.

Nalchik is about 100km (60 miles) north-west of Beslan, where Chechen rebels took hundreds of hostages at a school in 2004, in an attack claimed by warlord Shamil Basayev.




BBC NEWS:VIDEO AND AUDIO
See security forces storm buildings in Nalchik




SEE ALSO:
Analysis: N Caucasus militants
13 Oct 05 |  Europe
North Caucasus: At a glance
08 Sep 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
21 Sep 05 |  Country profiles


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