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Thursday, July 23, 1998 Published at 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK

World: Europe

Chechen leader survives assassination attempt

Maskhadov escaped with leg injuries, but two bodyguards were killed

The Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has survived an apparent assassination attempt.

BBC Moscow Correspondent Andrew Harding reports on what has become an armed gang-land
He was driving in a convoy through the streets of the capital Grozny when a car bomb exploded nearby.

Mr Maskhadov's spokesman said the president emerged from his armoured car with only light injuries.

Two of his bodyguards were killed and another two seriously injured.

Shortly afterwards Mr Maskhadov appeared at a news conference and blamed foreign secret services for the attack.

But the BBC Moscow correspondent says it is more likely the attack was organised by forces inside Chechnya.

Russia denies involvement

Chechen officials regularly accuse Russia of plotting to destabilise their country, which now enjoys de-facto independence from Moscow. However, our correspondent says the Kremlin has come to see Mr Maskhadov as an acceptable negotiating partner.

The Russian security service said it had no information on the involvement of any secret service.

A senior Russian official linked the attack to the Chechen authorities' recent crackdown on Islamic fundamentalists in the town of Gudermes.

President Yeltsin has offered help in tracking down the perpetrators.

Tension on increase

No one has claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt.

Correspondents say tensions between rival factions in the country have been on the increase.

Mr Maskhadov recently tightened a state of emergency imposed in June and launched another campaign against a radical Islamic group which had been blamed for a number of violent clashes in Chechnya and neighbouring Dagestan.

Until now at least Mr Maskhadov seems to have lived a charmed life. He commanded Chechen fighters during the war for independence from Russia and emerged from the rubble unscathed.

Since then, he has battled against rival Chechen gangs who have brought the republic to the brink of anarchy.

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