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Russia rebels claim "economic war"
Fri Aug 21, 2009 10:16am EDT
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By Michael Stott
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Chechen rebels claimed responsibility on Friday for a Siberian dam disaster as part of a new "economic war" against Russia but the Kremlin dismissed the claim and financial markets ignored it.
The claims posted on the unofficial Islamist rebel Website www.kavkazcenter.com contradicted experts and officials, who said dilapidated Soviet-era infrastructure was to blame for a water surge at Russia's biggest hydro-electric dam on Monday that killed up to 75 people.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the stricken Sayano- Shushenskaya dam in southern Siberia on Friday, inspecting the damage, speaking to rescue workers and consoling relatives.
"We will replace the iron but we will never replace the people," Putin, dressed in a black suit and showing uncharacteristic emotion, told a news conference. "One cannot even remember when we had an accident on this scale."
Putin also gave the clearest official signal so far that the 49 people still missing should be presumed dead, ordering payments of 1 million roubles per person ($31,650) to be paid for the missing and the dead out of the federal budget.
Near the pool of green sludge that fills the massive hole in the engine room, one worker told Reuters that he was on duty when a tower of water ripped through the floor.
"I'm a grown man, but for me it was totally frightening. Thirteen of my friends were in there," he said, declining to give his name as he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Putin and other top officials did not comment on the rebel claims of responsibility for the disaster, which were also ignored by Russia's state-controlled media.
But a recent wave of Islamist-inspired violence continued in the country's mainly Muslim North Caucasus.
In the Chechen capital Grozny, newly rebuilt after two devastating secessionist wars, suicide bombers on bicycles launched two separate attacks on Friday killing at least four policemen, the republic's Interior Ministry said.
Blood and body parts could be seen near the charred remains of a bicycle and a police car at the site of one of the explosions. Grozny has seen a series of bombings in recent months, shattering a few years of relative calm following the separatist wars.
At the start of the week, Sayano-Shushenskaya, Russia's biggest hydro-electric dam, was crippled by a surge of water through the machine room, destroying three of the dam's 10 huge turbines, drowning dozens of workers and dumping a long oil slick in the Yenisei river.
A few hours later a powerful truck bomb exploded at a police headquarters in the southern republic of Ingushetia, killing at least 20 people.
The Kakvaz Center website's statement was signed by the "Battalion of Martyrs," which claimed to have planted an anti-tank grenade in the machine hall of the dam and to have carried out the Ingush bombing. Continued...
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