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Chechen Official Says Separatists Capture Russian Workers

Moscow, March 7 (RFE/RL) - A senior Chechen official of the Russian-backed Chechen government says separatist fighters have captured 84 Russian workers in the capital, Grozny.

Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Prime Minister Abdula Bugayev as saying the workers were taken in the city center. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

Bugayev did not say if the fighters had put forward any demands.

He said new fighters had begun entering the city and snipers had been seen on a building near the government's headquarters. He said the fighters had blown up an oil pipeline in the city, causing a blaze.

Yesterday, separatists began an offensive to recapture Grozny, taken by Russian forces a year ago. Fighting, the worst since Russian forces captured Grozny a year ago, was said to be continuing today. Separatists were reported to be holding on to areas gained yesterday.

Russian news agencies quote the Russian Interior Ministry as saying nine of its servicemen had been killed in the last 24 hours. There was no independent confirmation of casualty figures. Chechen losses are not known.