Russian authorities say at least 14 police and 10 militants have been killed in hours of fighting in the capital of the restive North Caucasus republic of Chechnya.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on December 4 that a "counterterrorist operation" against gunmen who attacked a traffic-police post and seized a building in central Grozny was over and that at least nine militants were killed.
The National Antiterrorist Committee said that 14 police officers were killed and 28 others were wounded in the fighting, during which a publishing house building was engulfed in flames and gunfire and blasts rocked the city.
It was one of the biggest outbreaks of violence in years in Grozny, which has been rebuilt at great expense to the Kremlin after two devastating post-Soviet wars that spawned an Islamist insurgency which persists in the North Caucasus.
The fighting began hours before President Vladimir Putin, who came to power 15 years ago while leading a war that drove out a separatist government in Chechnya, delivered an annual address to the nation.
Authorities said the fighting began when gunmen traveling in several cars killed at least three traffic police officers who tried to stop them at a checkpoint late on December 3.
Security forces then surrounded a building housing a publishing house in central Grozny after militants occupied it, and flames and smoke poured from the windows during the siege.
Kadyrov later said all the militants in the building had been "annihilated" but that more gunmen -- heavily armed with weapons including grenade launchers -- were holed up in a school.
Still later, he said the last militants offering resistance had been destroyed, but he made no specific mention of the school and it was not immediately clear what happened there.
Kadyrov said at least nine militants had been killed and said the bodies of others might still be found.
The Kavkaz Center website -- used by Islamic militant groups operating in Russia's North Caucasus -- linked to a video message by an individual claiming to be responsible for the attack.
The man in the video said he was operating under orders from Chechen Islamist leader Aslan Byutukayev, known to his followers as Emir Khamzat.
The authenticity of the video could not be verified.
PHOTO GALLERY: Gunbattle In Grozny (Graphic Content)
Violence is common in the mostly Muslim provinces of the North Caucasus, where the government is struggling to defeat Islamist insurgents whose deadly bombings and other attacks in the region and elsewhere in Russia have marred Putin's years in power.
But the harsh security measures implemented by the authoritarian Kadyrov have ensured that Grozny has remained relatively calm over the past few years, turning the neighboring regions of Daghestan and Ingushetia into the main focus of violence.
Government critics say heavy-handed tactics by security forces fuel the insurgency in the North Caucasus.
The twice-ruined Chechen capital's opulent reconstruction is a source of pride for Kadyrov and Putin, who portrays keeping Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus in Russia despite militants' efforts to split off or create an Islamic state as a major success.
WATCH: Scenes from the fighting in Grozny
In his speech, Putin repeated his frequent suggestions that some in the West supported militants in the Caucasus in the past in the hope of breaking up Russia.
"We remember very well who...openly supported separatism and even direct terror in our country, calling those killers up to their elbows in blood mere rebels and receiving them at the highest level," he said.
But he played down the fighting in Grozny, suggesting it was not a national problem by saying: "I am sure the local guys, local law enforcement, will deal with it properly."
With reporting by TASS, Interfax, AP, and Reuters