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The BBC's James Rodgers reports from Grozny
"Organising an election in a war zone was never going to be easy"
 real 28k

Sunday, 26 March, 2000, 20:00 GMT 21:00 UK
Russia denies capture of town
Voter in bed
A bedridden Chechen refugee votes in neighbouring Ingushetia
Russia has denied reports that Chechen rebels have captured a town in the east of the republic, and says that voting in the presidential election has passed off normally there.

About 2,000 rebel fighters were reported to have captured the town of Nozhai-Yurt, close to the border with Dagestan.

Vladimir Putin
Putin said the vote was "important for the Chechen people"
Russian military sources in Moscow said the separatists had slipped into the town gradually over the past few days.

But a defence ministry spokesman dismissed the report as "deliberate disinformation".

Russian authorities said that voting had passed off normally in Nozhai-Yurt with over 11,000 people, some 54% of the electorate, turning out by late afternoon.


A local electoral commission official said that 340 polling stations had opened in Chechnya.

Grozny deputy mayor Dumda Sadayev said that 60% of the city's voters had cast their ballots by early afternoon.

Polling stations were heavily guarded by army and police units.

Armed man outside voting station
Security was stepped up in Grozny for voting day
Soldiers and some civilians were allowed to vote early because of the difficulties of getting around the war-ravaged countryside.

Acting President Vladimir Putin urged Chechens to turn out and vote.

"This is important for the Chechen people and for all of Russia because whoever is elected will know that people voted for him and that he will bear responsibility for these people and for this republic," Mr Putin said.

But many Chechens said they would not bother to turn out in an election that is almost certain to confirm Mr Putin as president.

Security cordon

In the run-up to Sunday's poll, Russia sealed off Chechnya, banning private traffic and closing the border with Ingushetia after warnings that rebels might stage attacks to disrupt the vote.

The Russian military said separatist fighters were aiming to attack Grozny, the republic's second city Gudermes, as well as the other major towns of Urus-Martan and Argun.

On Saturday night, a truck-load of Chechen rebels tried to break into Gudermes, but several were killed in a shoot-out while the rest escaped, Itar-Tass quoted interior ministry officials as saying.

Checkpoints in the capital Grozny and elsewhere in the republic also came under attack, while troops found a primed grenade in a polling booth in Znamenskoye, north-west Chechnya, the officials said.

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