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Grozny Mayor Recants Over Mass-Grave Remarks

Published: April 13, 2001 (Issue # 661)


MOSCOW - Grozny Mayor Bislan Gan tamirov backtracked Wednesday on remarks he made a day earlier about a mass grave found by his staff on the grounds of a police station in the Che chen capital.

After saying Tuesday that 17 bodies with gunshot wounds had been found in the basement of a bombed-out dormitory next to the Oktyabrskoye police station, Gantamirov did an about-face and joined the chorus of federal officials denying the findings.

"If [presidential envoy to the North Cau casus District General Viktor] Ka zant sev thinks there is no one there, it means there is no one there," Ganta mi rov said by telephone on Wednesday.

Kommersant reported Tuesday that Gan tamirov had announced the discovery and accused Interior Ministry troops stationed at the police station of killing Chechen detainees. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Gantamirov confirmed the report.

The story of the burial site has been rife with contradictions.

Federal officials, including Chechnya's prosecutor Viktor Dakhnov, announced Tuesday that the site had been searched and no bodies found.

However, on Wednesday acting Grozny prosecutor Yury Ponomaryov said the investigation was continuing.

"It is impossible to say for certain whether there are bodies there or not," Ponomaryov told NTV television.

Explaining his change of heart Wednesday, Gantamirov said he'd learned of the discovery from the same source as Kazantsev, who first confirmed the find but then said an investigation had come up empty.

"I was relying on the same source of information as Kazantsev," Gantamirov told Interfax. "If he then maintained there is no grave, I have to believe him."

Gantamirov did not specify his source of information.

But Chechnya's prosecutor Dak h nov told Interfax on Wednesday that the reports were based on claims by local residents.

"They are looking for relatives missing since January and for some reason are convinced their bodies can be found near the Oktyabrskoye police station," Dakh nov told Interfax.

Russian television Wednesday showed investigators inspecting the ruins of the shell-shattered dormitory as Chechen women roamed around nearby. Gantamirov said his men were at the site as well, but declined to elaborate.

Gantamirov, whose current stint as Grozny's mayor began in October, has a bumpy relationship with the Kremlin. He was first appointed mayor after federal troops seized Grozny in 1994 and held the post until May 1996, when he was jailed after a conviction for embezzling millions of dollars allocated for restoring the devastated city. In October 1999, shortly after the second campaign began, Gantamirov was pardoned and appointed to head the pro-Kremlin Che chen police. Since then, he has often been at odds with his boss, Che chen administration head Akhmad Kadyrov.

Human rights groups have registered complaints about disappearances of people detained by troops from the Oktyabrskoye police station.

But Vladimir Salnikov, an officer from the elite OMON unit in charge of the station until early this month, told Kommersant his comrades had nothing to do with the disappearance of local residents, adding that mass graves in Chechnya are commonplace.

"Half the buildings in [Grozny's] Oktyabrsky district are destroyed. Most ruins haven't been cleared since the previous war, so God knows how many more bodies - both Chechen and ours - are underneath," Salnikov was quoted as saying.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 21


Time is running out to see the fantastic creations on display at the 2014 Sand Castle Festival on the beach at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Adhering to the theme of Treasure Island, visitors can wander amongst larger-than-life interpretations of pirate life or attend one of the workshops held to educate a future generation of sand artists. The castles will remain on the beach until Aug. 31.



Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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