Security stepped up in Chechnya ahead of historical attack anniversary

Chechnya's police official said that security has been stepped up due to rumors of attacks believed to be planned around the anniversary of the major rebel offensive in 1996.

The Interior Minister in Chechnya's Moscow-backed government, Ruslan Alkhanov, said that security has been tightened for the period of Aug. 4-10 because of "provocative rumors that disturb the populace".

Alkhanov said police patrols have been stepped up and security tightened at key facilities including pipelines, power plants and bridges. Police are forbidden from taking vacation or days off for the time being, he said.

Russian and Chechen authorities have traditionally increased security ahead of the anniversary of an Aug. 6, 1996 assault on the capital Grozny, which turned the tide in the rebels' favor in the first of two separatist wars in the region in the past decade.

Russian forces withdrew after the 20-month war, leaving the southern Russian region with de facto independence. They returned in 1999 and drove the separatist leadership from power, but rebel attacks, fighting and abductions and other violent crime persist.

Also Thursday, news reports cited Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov as saying that gambling establishments in the republic would be shut down by Aug. 25, and that assistance would be given to owners of gaming businesses who wanted to set up other enterprises.

The reports did not state the motive behind the decision, but Chechen authorities recently have shown increased interest in attracting support from devout Muslims. Kadyrov announced plans Wednesday to build a mosque that would be one of Europe's largest in the Chechen capital of Grozny, the AP reports.

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