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Grozny Residents Block Chechen Capital

Grozny, July 16 (RFE/RL) -- Itar-Tass reports that residents of the Chechen capital Grozny today formed a human chain and blocked roads leading to the city from the north. The agency says people are protesting against what they say were the killings of 12 people by unidentified gunmen in armoured vehicles overnight.

Ten people were reportedly killed in the settlement of Pervomaiskaya in a northwest suburb when two unidentified armored vehicles opened fire at three cars. A similar incident is said to have occurred in the settlement of Artemovsky in a northern suburb. Two people were reported killed there and three young men kidnapped.

Interfax quotes a pro-Moscow Chechen official Abdula Bugayev as saying that the bodies of 13 people were found in the suburbs of Grozny after last night's incidents.

Pro-Moscow Chechen Interior Minister Khamid Inalov told Itar-Tass that the armored vehicles arrived from Grozny. Inalov said the pro-Moscow Chechen prosecutor is investigating the reported killings.

Meanwhile, in the south of Chechnya, Russian helicopters firing rockets attacked last night the settlement of Stary Atagi, reportedly targeterd a house belonging to the mother of Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The house was badly damaged.

Yandarbiyev's younger brother, Suleiman, told Reuter news agency that he and his family, including the separatist leader's mother, narrowly escaped death in the attack.

In Moscow, Russian Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov today defended Russia's latest military action and said it is "too early to speak of withdrawing troops" from Chechnya.