Chechen President Is Killed in Bombing at Holiday Celebration

posted 2004-05-09 21:24:46 by beth

MOSCOW, May 9 -- A bomb exploded in a stadium in Chechnya's capital today, killing the republic's president and delivering a severe blow to President Vladimir V. Putin's efforts to end the long, bloody conflict in the region.

As many as 13 others were killed, two officials there said, while more than 50 were reported injured, including the Russian military commander for the region.

Akhmad Kadyrov, a former rebel leader elected the republic's president last fall in a vote widely considered fraudulent, was the political figure Mr. Putin entrusted and empowered to wind down nearly a decade of war in Chechnya.

His death now plunges the Kremlin's strategy into ominous uncertainty.

The explosion, reportedly caused by a bomb planted inside a concrete pillar, occurred at 10:35 a.m. as Mr. Kadyrov and other Russian and Chechen leaders attended a parade and concert in Grozny commemorating the 59th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

The NTV network, having sent a crew to film what was expected to be a celebratory event, broadcast jarring images of the explosion and its panicked aftermath. As smoke billowed over the stadium's grandstand, dazed and bloodied spectators, including children and elderly veterans wearing their war medals, stumbled over metal bleachers to escape.

The blast tore a gaping whole in the stadium's central section for dignitaries. Soldiers and police officers lifted Mr. Kadyrov from the shorn wreckage, his body slumped, his face battered and bloodied. He was 52.

In televised remarks confirming his death, a shaken Mr. Putin called him "a truly heroic man" who personified the difference between "bandits, terrorists and the whole people" � a distinction Mr. Putin strives to make between those who still struggle for Chechnya's independence and those who accept that Chechnya is a part of Russia.

Mr. Putin announced that Sergei B. Abramov, the Kremlin-appointed prime minister of Chechnya, would take over as acting president, as called for in the republic's new constitution, until new elections are held sometime before September.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but given the placement of the bomb, the attack was clearly meant to assassinate Mr. Kadyrov and other Russian and Chechen leaders.

Khussein Isayev, the chairman of the republic's state council under Mr. Kadyrov, was also killed in the blast, as was a journalist for Reuters, Adlan Khasanov, the news agency reported.

Col. Gen. Valery P. Baranov, the commander of the Russian military in the Northern Caucasus since late 2002, was gravely wounded, according to official accounts. He underwent surgery at the main Russian military base outside Grozny and was reported to be in serious condition, having lost a leg.

There were conflicting reports about the exact toll, reflecting confusion and, perhaps, efforts to play down the severity of the attack. Official Russian news agencies reported that only 6 had died, although two officials reached by telephone in Grozny put the toll at 14. Other reports cited as many as 24 or 32 dead.