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Sunday, November 14, 1999 Published at 17:59 GMT

World: Europe

Grozny ground assault expected

Tightening the noose on Grozny

Intensive Russian attacks have been continuing on key positions in Chechnya.

Russian commanders say they are preparing for a ground assault on the capital, Grozny, after weeks of devastating air raids. Troops are reported to be gradually encircling the devastated city.

Battle for the Caucasus
An improvement in the weather appears to have allowed the Russians to carry out yet more air raids over Chechnya.

Reports say they carried out strikes to the south-west of Grozny, on the town of Bamut - where there was heavy fighting in the last Chechen war - and on the Argun Gorge, which the rebels are said to be using as a corridor into neighbouring Georgia.

The BBC's Peter Biles: "The war is demanding the full attention of the Kremlin"
There are also reported to have been more attacks on Grozny itself, although this has not been independently verified.

The Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, spent more than an hour briefing President Yeltsin on the crisis on Sunday.

The president is still resting at his Moscow residence after a recent vacation on the Black Sea coast.

Russia is expected to face further international criticism of its offensive in Chechnya when leaders of the European security organisation, the OSCE, gather for a summit in Istanbul.

Turning point in Chechnya

On Friday, the Russians moved into Chechnya's second-largest town, Gudermes.

[ image: Vladimir Putin: A decisive change]
Vladimir Putin: A decisive change
This was described by Mr Putin as a decisive turning point in the Russian campaign in Chechnya.

"A fundamental change has taken place in the republic," Mr Putin said.

A senior Russian commander says the situation in Gudermes is now peaceful and that the rebels have been driven out.

A night-time curfew has been imposed, and local residents have been warned that anyone violating it will be shot on sight.

Refugees continue to flee

At the Chechen border, thousands of refugees are continuing to stream across into Ingushetia.

The BBC's Orla Guerin: "Russia seems determined to fight to the end even if Chechnya is destroyed".
About 40 busloads arrived at the border In the space of a few hours on Saturday.

But the Russian government office in Chechnya issued a statement on Sunday, suggesting that estimates of refugee numbers were exaggerated.

A spokesman told the Itar-Tass news agency that official figures put the number of displaced persons at 212,000, with most of them having fled to Ingushetia.

But he said the local authorities could count only 12,000 people accommodated in eight tented camps.

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