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    Chechen president plays down terrorist threat

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    Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov played down on Tuesday reports of impending terrorist attacks, saying the security situation in the south Russian republic remained stable and under control.

    GROZNY, April 21 (RIA Novosti) - Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov played down on Tuesday reports of impending terrorist attacks, saying the security situation in the south Russian republic remained stable and under control.

    Russian media earlier quoted the Interior Ministry's operative headquarters in the republic as saying militant forces were gathering strength in mountainous areas and preparing a series of terrorist attacks in the capital, Grozny.

    Kadyrov said the reports had been checked. "We have grounds to confirm that the situation has not changed in the past week," he said.

    He questioned the timing of the reports, saying it was suspicious that "information on militants and their plans to carry out terrorist attacks appeared immediately after the counter-terrorism operation regime was lifted," even though "there was previously no such information."

    The federal counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya, launched in 1999, was officially concluded on April 16. The Russian government's decision to end the operation envisages the withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops from the province.

    The operative headquarters for Chechnya said earlier on Tuesday that Russian special police and troops had started an anti-terrorism operation in two Chechen districts.

    According to a spokesman, the headquarters "received information that Chechen militants were preparing terrorist acts in the Itum-Kale and Vedeno districts of the republic."

    "In response, we started anti-terrorism operations in these districts... on April 20," he said.

    The spokesman said militant activity in Chechnya has sharply increased since last Thursday, when the counter-terrorism operation ended, and said that at least 60 militants were based in the Itum-Kale District, "organizing a network of bases, with arms caches and food stores."

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