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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 03:29 GMT 04:29 UK

World: Europe

Lebed warns of threat to elections

St Petersburg blast: Firefighters rescued trapped people

The former Russian general and presidential race contender Alexander Lebed is warning that planned parliamentary elections in December are becoming increasingly unlikely in the wake of terrorist attacks.

Terror in Russia
  • Who is to blame?
  • What Russia can do
  • Timeline: The blasts which shook Russia
  • Mr Lebed, governor of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, said that Russians were becoming increasingly angry with the authorities over their failure to halt the bombings.

    Mr Lebed said that "the probability of holding legislative elections in Russia is fading with each day" of the crisis.

    "Fear is spreading among the population as is anger against the authorities who are unable to protect them," he said.

    The BBC's Stephen Dalziel: "Russians are increasingly nervous"
    Tension is running high in Russia and the media is full of speculation that the spate of attacks is part of plan by unnamed political opponents of the parliamentary elections.

    Mr Lebed's warning came as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged tough measures to deal with Islamic rebels in the breakaway republic of Chechnya who have been blamed for attacks which have killed nearly 300 people.

    Parliament supports strikes

    Mr Putin has won support for his measures to deal with the bombings, including continued nightly air strikes on Chechen rebel bases.

    [ image:  ]
    "The senators of the Federation Council have come out in favour of the most resolute, well-considered operations in the shortest possible time," said Mr Putin.

    "There will be no stepping back.

    "Strikes against guerrilla bases in Chechnya are and will be carried out. The bandits must be destroyed wherever they are."

    [ image:  ]
    Pressed on suggestions that Russian ground troops may be brought in, Mr Putin said the matter had not been discussed.

    Meanwhile, St Petersburg officials said that the latest explosion in the city was not linked to previous attacks.

    Four people died in the blast - Russia's sixth in three weeks - when an explosive device, equivalent to about 5kg of TNT, was left on a stairwell. A nearby can of petrol also exploded.

    Russia's Interior Minister Vladimir Rushaylo said the St Petersburg incident was "definitely unconnected" with earlier explosions but could be linked to local politics, saying that a newspaper editor who lived in the building was active in electoral campaigning and may have been the target.

    St Petersburg has experienced numerous politically motivated attacks in recent years, including the November 1998 murder of Galina Starvoitova, the reforming liberal politician.

    Two arrests

    Police in Moscow are still holding two Chechens suspected of involvement in earlier attacks. A spokesman said traces of explosives had been found on the hands of one of the suspects.

    Investigators had also seized a large quantity of explosives from a garage, he added.

    Police have rounded up and questioned many of Chechens living in Moscow, while other members of the 100,000-strong community say they have been harassed and forced to leave.

    Chechen rebels have denied any involvement in the blasts, and the Chechen Government has in turn accused Russia of killing more than 200 people in bombing raids.

    Campaign of violence

    [ image:  ]
    On Wednesday, 17 people died and more than 100 people were injured when a lorry bomb tore through an apartment block in Volgodonsk which lies near Russia's volatile northern Caucasus region.

    Moscow has suffered two devastating bomb attacks, one which killed 118 people and another which killed 94.

    Other recent targets have included a military housing complex in Dagestan and a shopping mall near the Kremlin.

    As rescuers sifted through the rubble of the Volgodonsk block, officials announced that police had discovered 3.5 tonnes of explosives in a southern Moscow suburb.

    The explosives were hidden among sacks of sugar from a plant in southern Russia. Six timing devices have also been reportedly found.

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