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Sunday, March 21, 1999 Published at 15:03 GMT

World: Europe

Bomb attack on Chechen president

President Maskhadov at a rally last week near Grozny

A powerful bomb has exploded near a motorcade carrying the Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov.

Helen Sawyer reports: "Its destructive intent was plain to see"
Mr Maskhadov's armoured jeep was just seconds away from the explosion, but he escaped unhurt.

One person was killed and eight were injured in the attack, according to the president's press secretary. Four of the wounded were reported to be President Maskhadov's bodyguards.

[ image: President Maskhadov: faces rival government]
President Maskhadov: faces rival government
His convoy was on Pobeda [Victory] Prospect, outside the presidential palace in the centre of the capital, Grozny at the time of the blast, around 1340GMT.

The radio-controlled land mine was hidden in a sewage drain on the street, about 200m from the palace.

It left a crater three metres deep and 5 metres wide, and blew windows out of nearby buildings.

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Moscow: "The Chechens have blamed the Russians"
The Russian Itar-Tass news agency has reported shots being fired near the scene of the explosion in the breakaway republic.

Cars accompanying the president's vehicle, and several other nearby cars were damaged by the bomb.

A number of pedestrians were reportedly injured and taken to hospital.

Grozny blames Moscow

The president blamed "certain forces in Moscow" for the attack.

[ image:  ]
He said Moscow wanted to force Chechnya, which has sufferred numerous attacks on figures of authority, to declare a state of emergency.

But Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin blamed Chechnya for the bomb and a number of recent violent events in Russia and Chechnya, saying they were "links in a single chain".

Mr Stepashin linked the latest attempt on the Chechen president's life to an explosion on Friday in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz, and the abduction of Russian Interior Ministry envoy, Gennadiy Shpigun, on 5 March.

He said there were forces within Chechnya that wished to prevent a forthcoming meeting on the political situation in the Caucasus between the Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and President Maskhadov.

Series of attacks

Sunday's blast came just two days after the fatal explosion in a market in the town of Vladikavkaz in the neighbouring Russian republic of North Ossetia.

And President Maskhadov and other Chechen officials have narrowly escaped death on many occasions in the last two years.

The president survived an attack very similar to Sunday's when a car bomb exploded near his convoy last July.

His predecessor, Dzhokhar Dudayev, died in a rocket attack by Russian forces.

Fighting for power

President Maskhadov signed decrees introducing Islamic Shariah law in the region in February.

Since then, hardline military leaders in Chechnya have created a rival Islamic government to that of President Maskhadov.

He is left with only limited security forces behind him.

Moscow still lists the Islamic republic as part of the Russian Federation, although Chechnya has been running its own affairs since a ceasefire with Russia in May 1996.

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