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Friday, July 24, 1998 Published at 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK

World: Europe

Ex-Chechen president cleared of bomb attack

Maskhadov escaped with leg injuries, but two bodyguards were killed

The former president of Chechnya has been cleared of involvement in an assassination attempt on current president, Aslan Maskhadov.

The Supreme Court in Chechnya has cleared Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev of involvement in a car bomb attack which took place on Thursday.

The attack bomb left the Chechen president with slight injuries, but killed two of his bodyguards and left another two seriously injured.

The Chechen authorities have made no direct accusations against Mr Yandarbiyev, but they link him with militant Islamic groups that clashed with government forces last week.

BBC Moscow Correspondent Andrew Harding reports on what has become an armed gang-land
Two commanders of rebel groups have also been summoned to the court, but they have so far failed to appear.

President Maskhadov was driving in a convoy through the streets of the capital Grozny when a car bomb exploded nearby.

He survived the apparent assassination attempt inside his armoured car and emerged with only light injuries.

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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