Moscow, 18 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The head of the pro-Russian police in Chechnya said that 16 police officers were killed in a bomb blast today, bringing to 35 the number of people killed in the past 24 hours. The explosion came a few hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the military stage of the conflict in Chechnya is over.
For the second year in a row, Putin declared an end to the war in the separatist republic during his State of the Nation address in Moscow. He said today the conflict is finished, "thanks to the bravery and heroism of the army and special units of Russia."
Russian troops nominally control nearly all of Chechnya, but continue to die nearly every day in shooting and bomb attacks.
Earlier, Russian media reported that 13 servicemen were killed today in mine explosions in the Chechen capital Grozny. And Interfax news agency, quoting military sources, says six soldiers were killed yesterday when rebels ambushed a troop transporter in the Shatoi Mountains, about 40 kilometers south of Grozny.
Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya after a 1994-96 war, but returned in 1999.
Putin also stated in his address to parliament that his administration would continue to push for democratization and economic development.
Putin noted the recent progress in Russia's economy, saying that overall, the Russian people had become more optimistic about the country's long-range future.
But Putin also said much remained to be done. He stressed that 40 million people remain below the poverty level. Putin also said Russia had to become more ambitious in fighting for a share of international markets in order to assure its further prosperity.
The Russian president called for the adoption of new tax laws and an easing of bureaucracy in order to cut down on corruption. Putin said the government's task should be to allow Russians to prosper so that they could grow the country's wealth.