Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Moscow on Edge over Explosions Three Blasts in Two Weeks Shake Russians' Sense of Safety. Will The

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Moscow on Edge over Explosions Three Blasts in Two Weeks Shake Russians' Sense of Safety. Will The

Article excerpt

There remains little doubt that the Russian capital has been targeted for a deliberate terror campaign, after a powerful explosion, the third in two weeks, destroyed a Moscow housing block yesterday.

Precisely who is responsible for the blasts, which have claimed an estimated 200 lives, is still unclear. But like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the apparent attacks have left Russians feeling vulnerable and many are calling for a strong government response.

Except for a brief armed battle between presidential and parliamentary forces in 1993, Muscovites haven't known any serious threat to their security since World War II. "I'm afraid to go out and I'm afraid to stay home," says office worker Galina Syomova. "I blame {President Boris} Yeltsin.... The country is falling apart and he just keeps changing prime ministers. He should go."

It remains to be seen how effective the government will be in addressing the threat, and how it may affect coming elections for parliament in December, and for president next June.

Mr. Yeltsin summoned his top ministers, as well as his political rival, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, to an emergency meeting at the Kremlin yesterday and pledged to enact "swift and tough measures."

"The criminals have thrown down a sinister challenge. They are trying to scare the Russian people and intimidate the state," Yeltsin declared. "We already know who is behind the blasts: The name of the criminal is terrorism."

Mayor blames Islamic fighters

Mr. Luzhkov, a leading candidate to replace Yeltsin in next year's election, pointed his finger squarely at Islamic militants, backed by forces from the breakaway republic of Chechnya, who are fighting to wrest the southern province of Dagestan from Russian control.

"The source of this terrorism we are naming as Chechen bandits," Luzhkov said.

A special police team has been formed to deal with the emergency. Within 24 hours a heightened security regime is to be imposed at nuclear power stations, railroad stations, oil refineries, pipelines, and other strategic points across the country, Yeltsin said.

The president also stressed that any special measures would be in strict accord with Russia's Constitution and laws. Moscow has been rife with rumors that the Kremlin might try to exploit the public's rising fear by introducing a state of emergency, in which forthcoming elections might be canceled. Yeltsin's assurances appear to rule out that scenario, at least for now.

Calls for strong action

"There must be urgent steps taken immediately," says Oleg Sanderov, a Moscow shop manager. …

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