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The BBC's Paul Welsh
"The desperation on their faces tells the story of their escape"
 real 28k

Chechen representative Salih Brandt
''The only people who will be affected by the bombardment will be innocent civilians''
 real 28k

The BBC's Richard Lister in Washington
"Some of President Clinton's toughest comments yet"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 05:32 GMT
Russia defiant over Chechnya
Russian tank Russia is threatening a massive assault on Grozny

Russia has strongly defended its ultimatum to Chechens to leave the capital, Grozny, or risk being killed in an all-out assault.

Battle for the Caucasus
As the army continued on Tuesday to bombard the city with heavy rocket fire, the United Nations said it did not see how people could leave the city safely when attacks were continuing.

Moscow's threat to carry out a major air and artillery assault on the capital has been condemned by the United States, the European Union and human rights organisations.

Russia's fight against terrorism is right, but the methods being used in Chechnya are wrong
Bill Clinton
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) delayed instalments of a loan to Russia - but said this was because of Moscow's failure to complete structural reforms.

Russia criticised the decision, suggesting the IMF had been influenced by political considerations.

Russia's chief commander in Chechnya, General Viktor Kazantsev, said leaflets dropped over the city telling citizens to leave by Saturday were a warning - not an ultimatum.

''No ultimatum was proposed,'' he said.

''We are not doing any carpet bombing. And I don't want to launch any strikes at the moment, since I'm well aware that mainly old people and children have stayed on there.''

The leaflets dropped by Russian warplanes on Monday warned people to leave the city by 11 December using a safe corridor north-west of Grozny.

"Those who remain will be viewed as terrorists and bandits. They will be destroyed by artillery and aviation,'' the leaflets said.

''There will be no more talks. All those who do not leave the city will be destroyed."

You are surrounded, all roads to Grozny are blocked. You have no chance of winning.
Russian leaflet
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rebuffed international criticism of the military campaign, saying the West should put pressure on the rebels in Chechnya to meet Moscow's terms for ending the conflict.

He also criticised the IMF decision to delay the disbursement of aid to Russian.

The Interfax news agency quoted him as saying: "The formal pretext for the delay is a supposed failure to implement certain obligations. We do not think so."

The First Deputy Prime Minister, Victor Khristenko, added: "The IMF's status as a non-political organisation is in question."

British condemnation

In the British parliament, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, was highly critical of the Russian campaign.

"We cannot continue to assist Russia if Russia does not respect basic humanitarian norms," Mr Cook said, adding that Britain "cannot understand how Russia imagines that it can root out terrorism by attacking the whole of the population".

He welcomed the IMF's decision to delay the loan payment.

The $640m IMF loan instalment for Russia has been frozen since September. The IMF said the funds were being delayed for a few more weeks.

Earlier, US President Bill Clinton warned that Moscow it would pay ''a heavy price'' for the war.

Threat to lives

Mr Clinton said the military offensive would fuel anti-Russian feeling in the region and harm Moscow's standing abroad.

A crosses a checkpoint near Sleptsovskaya Refugees are still fleeing
"There is a threat to the lives of the old, the infirm, the injured people and other innocent civilians who simply cannot leave or are too scared to leave their homes," Mr Clinton added.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, also expressed alarm about the fate of thousands of civilians trapped in the city.

Mrs Ogata told Russia's Emergencies Minister, Sergei Shoigu, the civilian population was the agency's "top concern".

wounded Russian A wounded Russian gives a victory sign
The president of neighbouring Ingushetia said up to 40,000 people remained in the city, including elderly people and women with children.

"I am afraid that, as in the first (Chechen) war, grenades will be thrown into cellars, that a storm of shells will fall on Grozny, that high calibre ammunition will be fired," he added.

The European Union said it was considering not signing accords with Russia to put pressure on the government to end the bloodshed.

And ministers from Islamic countries have gone to the region, which is predominantly Muslim, to try and avert an attack.

Muslims are concerned the planned offensive will coincide with the start of the holy festival Ramadan.

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See also:
08 Dec 99 |  Europe
UN says Chechens face death
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Grozny: A city in terror
07 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Russian media unmoved by Grozny ultimatum
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Putin rebuffs Chechnya warnings
07 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
UK condemns Chechnya ultimatum
07 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
UK's 'deep concern' over Chechnya
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Ultimatum sparks Grozny exodus
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Leave or die, Chechens told
05 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia denies killings during Grozny assault
04 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia 'seals off' Grozny
04 Dec 99 |  Europe
'Russians fired on refugees'
01 Dec 99 |  Europe
Chechens 'using human shields'

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