Putin oversees clampdown after Moscow blasts

Russia yesterday began beefing up security measures around the capital after Saturday’s suicide bombings, as President Putin cancelled an overseas trip to try to deal with the fear gripping the city’s 10-million inhabitants.

The Russian health ministry cautiously adjusted the death toll from the blasts caused by two Chechen suicide bombers at a rock festival downwards to 13, but the police said 18 had died. Eleven of the 49 injured remain seriously ill, with two young women in a critical condition.

Putin had intended to travel to Uzbekistan and Malaysia yesterday, but he cancelled the trip “in connection with the tragic consequences of the terrorist act in Moscow”, his press service said.

Many will see the decision as an attempt, in an election year, to reassure an anxious public that Putin is tackling the terrorist threat personally.

Yesterday the interior ministry announced a number of measures aimed at “ascertaining persons involved in preparing and carrying out the terrorist acts”. These include a greater police presence at public places, medical institutions, theatres, markets and shopping centres.

“Preventive work” would be stepped up on rail and air transport, the ministry said, more cars would be stopped and checked, and metal detectors would be introduced at concerts. The ministry asked citizens “to show patience and understanding of such necessary measures”.

The moves will add to the growing sense of unease in the city that Saturday’s attack may represent the start of a summer bombing campaign, intended to disrupt the Kremlin’s imposed political solution for the separatist republic, which will culminate with a presidential election in October.

Muscovites have begun to fear that the war in Chechnya may soon be brought to their own streets. After the city’s theatre siege, security measures were stepped up in the capital, and many peaceful Chechens were harassed by police over the permits which allow them to live in a Russian city.

In the nine months since then security has slipped slightly, but there had been a heavy police presence at the Tushino aerodrome festival site before Saturday’s bombings.

The event continued until 11pm last night, but attendance was noticeably lower.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Immediately after the blasts, a spokesman for Aslan Maskhadov, the last elected president of Chechnya, said the separatist leader “did not participate” in the attack. The speedy statement may point to Islamists in the Chechen movement being responsible.

Yesterday people were laying flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the Tushino aerodrome. “The security measures were tough,” said one. “You never know when and where a disaster can happen.”

The Orthodox patriarch Alexy II led a memorial service at the Christ the Saviour cathedral in the capital. “It has become very scary living in Moscow,” said Lyudmila, one of the congregation. “There are no guarantees.”

  • A Chechen journalist working for the French news agency AFP was kidnapped in Ingushetia on Friday. Ali Astamirov was taken from his car by masked men, after months of threatening phone calls. Michel Viatteau, AFP’s Moscow bureau chief, said the kidnappers had not made contact. “I don’t think the reporter was kidnapped in order to get a ransom,” he said. - Guardian Unlimited Â
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