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Monday, July 20, 1998 Published at 04:29 GMT 05:29 UK

World: Europe

Chechen president cracks down on crime

Chechen troops have been used to combat armed gangs

About 5,000 reserve troops are being mobilised in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya in an effort by the President, Aslan Maskhadov, to control armed gangs.

Mr Maskhadov has extended a curfew and a state of emergency imposed last month, and called for extra troops to try to combat the gangs who are believed to be behind the kidnapping of hundreds of people.

Mr Maskhadov said he would not let Chechnya be torn apart by civil wars like Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Since Chechnya drove out Russian troops from the former Soviet republic in 1996 following a two-year war, the region has been plagued by kidnappings and violence between different Chechen clans.

Our Moscow correspondent, Robert Parsons, says Mr Maskhadov is fighting a desperate battle to hold the region together and stay in power.

[ image: President Maskhadov: getting tough on crime]
President Maskhadov: getting tough on crime
Although he masterminded Chechnya's military triumph over Russia, Mr Maskhadov is finding control of his own people an altogether more exacting task.

Chechens are notoriously fractious and temperamental and are credited with much of the crime in Moscow and St Petersburg as well as in Chechnya.

Curfew extended

Mr Maskhadov extended a dawn-to-dusk curfew introduced on 24 June by an extra 10 days.

The state of emergency is designed to smash the power of the gangs which have made Chechnya, and neighbouring Daghestan, the kidnap capitals of the world.

Our correspondent says few Chechens question the need to act.

Hundreds have been taken hostage, including Russian President Boris Yeltsin's representative and aid workers from Britain and France. Several are still missing.

Oil supplies have also been siphoned off with impunity.

Government fightback

The government has appeared powerless and has even come under attack itself. In May the first deputy security minister, Shamsudi Uvaisayev, was killed by unidentified gunmen.

Since the curfew was imposed there have been signs the government fightback is making itself felt.

Last week, government troops clashed with the Wahhabite Islamic group thought to be behind many of the kidnappings, leaving several people dead.

The Wahhabites, a conservative branch of Sunni Muslims, have extended their influence in the north Caucasus since the end of the Chechen war.

President Maskhadov warned on Saturday that their armed formations would be disarmed and disbanded.

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