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Chechen President Killed In Grozny Blast

Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov 9 May 2004 -- Chechnya's pro-Russian president, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, was killed and Russia's top military commander in the North Caucasus was critically injured today by an explosion that ripped through the seats of a crowded Grozny stadium.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed that Kadyrov died from injuries he sustained when an explosive device detonated beneath his VIP seating during a military ceremony to mark the 59th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

"For the last four years, the president of the Chechen Republic, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov fulfilled his duty with dignity and courage. He was a really heroic man and he proved that the Chechen people, as a whole, have nothing in common with bandits and terrorists," Putin said. Putin said he has appointed Chechen Prime Minister Sergei Abramov to temporarily replace Kadyrov.

Meanwhile, Russian officials say doctors were working to save the life of Colonel General Valerii Baranov, who had been seated near Kadyrov when the explosion occurred. Earlier, unconfirmed reports said Baranov, the region's top commander, had been killed. At least 14 other people at the Victory Day celebrations in Grozny were killed
and some 40 people were injured.

At a Victory Day celebration in Moscow's Red Square, Putin said "justice will prevail" and that retribution against those who planted the explosive device is "inevitable."

Russia's NTV television broadcast footage of the attack. It showed the VIP seating at the stadium collapse into a jagged hole of torn wooden planks as the explosion near Kadyrov sent up a cloud of brown smoke. Seconds later, Russian troops opened fire with automatic rifles as panicked spectators clambered over their seating. It was not immediately clear who the security guards were shooting at.

The footage showed Russian soldiers pulling a stunned and bloodied Kadyrov from the wreckage of the stadium seating. The footage also showed soldiers moving the mangled body of at least one spectator.

Sergei Kozhemyaka, a duty officer at the Emergency Situations Ministry in southern Russia, said Grozny stadium was quickly evacuated after the explosion. Kozhemyaka also said a second land mine was found near the VIP seats. Russian Ekho Moskvy radio reported that numerous people have been detained and were being questioned this afternoon.

Kadyrov had been a Chechen separatist in the mid-1990s but gained innumerable enemies when he switched to Moscow's side at the start of the current Chechen war in October 1999. Kadyrov won a landslide victory in a controversial presidential election last October.

Today's explosion has underlined the intense security problems in Chechnya, despite Kremlin claims that normalcy is being restored after nearly five years of fighting. Grozny has a huge presence of Russian forces, but they have not been able to purge insurgents from the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for today's explosion, but Russian officials say suspicion inevitably falls on separatist fighters.