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Police battle militants in Russia


Chechnya (Russia)

(CNN) -- Police largely repelled an attack by 80 to 100 militants in the southern Russian region of Kabardino-Balkariya, a Russian official, told the Interfax news agency. He said 12 militants were detained and 20 killed.

But 12 police officers and 12 civilians lost their lives in the attack, said Russia's deputy prosecutor, Vladimir Kolesnikov, who said the casualties were "monstrous losses."

Two more are holed up in a city building in the center of Nalchik, the region's capital, he said.

Earlier, Interfax reported that Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin said 50 militants were dead along with 10 to 12 law enforcement personnel.

The Russian news agency reported that President Vladimir Putin ordered a "complete blockade" of Nalchik and "elimination of armed people resisting detention."

"The thugs who attacked the city's law enforcement establishments today have been for the most part dispersed," said Dmitry Kozak, Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. "Separate hotbeds are left. An armed clash is continuing at police station No. 3, where, unfortunately, hostages have been taken."

The Health Ministry said the bodies of 10 people, including many in uniforms, had been brought to Nalchik hospitals, along with at least 72 wounded, Interfax reported. Nalchik residents were told to stay inside, the news agency said.

A representative from the Rostov branch of the Emergency Medicine Center told Interfax that city hospitals had received 13 dead and 62 wounded, the agency reported.

"Obviously, this is an act of terrorism," State Duma Security Committee member Arkady Baskayev told Interfax. "This is a premeditated action, the same as it was in Beslan."

Conflicting reports highlighted the chaotic events in Nalchik.

Kabardino-Balkarian Premier Gennady Gubin told Interfax that the operation to neutralize guerrillas in Nalchik would be finished by the end of the day.

Russia's Interior Ministry said groups of rebels were being chased by helicopters. Interfax reported that police and army units in neighboring North Caucasus regions had been put on alert.

But at about the same time, Kabardino-Balkarian Deputy Mass Communications Minister Nikolai Lyapin declared that that the situation in the city had been brought back to normal and was under the control of security forces, Interfax reported.

Government facilities attacked during the fighting included the Kabardino-Balkarian Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service department, Interfax reported. A mobile phone tower was blown up in the attacks, making cell phone coverage spotty.

Black smoke was seen pouring out of a police station at the Interior Ministry. Other fires were reported in Nalchik.

"Battles are currently under way virtually everywhere in Nalchik. Security forces are conducting an operation to eliminate the guerillas," Interfax news agency reported, quoting a high-ranking Kabardino-Balkarian Emergency Situations Ministry source.

Itar-Tass news agency reported security forces confiscated a number of weapons and grenades after some of the gunmen were killed.

There were civilian casualties as well, but exact numbers were not known, said Interfax, quoting army headquarters in Nalchik.

Authorities said children were evacuated from a number of schools in the city center. The rebels were repelled from attacking Nalchik airport, Interfax reported. Both the airport and public transportation were shut down.

Federal forces are said to be surrounding the city, located in a majority Muslim area, state-run TV reported, and were stopping vehicles on the outskirts of Nalchik, looking for gunmen who might be trying to flee the city.

"A law enforcement source earlier said that the gunmen launched the attack after security forces detained a group of Wahhabis, whom their supporters are currently trying to release," Interfax reported. Wahhabi is a strict, legalistic sect of Islam.

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