SECURITY forces in the capital of Russia's north Caucasus republic of Chechnya stormed two buildings in fierce gun battles with militants early yesterday that left at least 19 dead.
The fighting, which ended a period of stability under the rule of Moscow-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, erupted hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin was to give his annual state-of-the-nation address in Moscow.
Mr Putin said he was confident that Chechen forces were capable of dealing with the rebels, who he suggested were receiving support from abroad.
The national anti-terrorist committee said militants in three cars entered Grozny at 1am, killing three police officers at a checkpoint and then occupied the 10-storey Press House in the city centre.
Six gunmen were killed inside the building. More gunmen were found in a nearby empty school and security forces were sent to "liquidate" them.
Mr Kadyrov, who travelled to Moscow for Mr Putin's address, told journalists that the security operation was completed and his forces had killed at least nine militants. Ten officers were killed and 28 wounded.
Forceful security measures adopted by Mr Kadyrov have spared Grozny significant violence for several years, allowing Mr Putin to claim success in subduing the Islamic insurgency in Chechnya after years of war.
In October, however, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a concert hall in Grozny, killing five policemen and wounding 12 others as the city celebrated Mr Kadyrov's birthday.
Mr Kadyrov has been criticised for human rights abuses, including allegations of killing opponents.
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