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Daily Archives: October 20, 2008

Russia confirms third death in Caucasus troop ambush

by Dario Thuburn*

A third Russian soldier has died after a troop column was ambushed in the volatile North Caucasus region, an official said yesterday, while unconfirmed reports said clashes had killed around 50 Russian soldiers.
The convoy of interior ministry troops came under fire from grenade launchers and automatic weapons on Saturday in the province of Ingushetia, where there has been a growing number of guerrilla attacks on security forces.
"Captain Senatorov, who was heavily injured, died as he was being transported to a military hospital," a spokesman for the main armed forces base in southern Russia in the city of Rostov-on-Don told the Interfax news agency.
The announcement brought the official death toll among Russian servicemen from Saturday's violence to three.
Russian officials have also said eight other federal personnel were injured in the ambush and an armoured personnel carrier and two trucks were destroyed.
However, a website run by opponents of Ingushetia's Moscow-backed administration on Saturday quoted an unnamed local interior ministry official and hospital sources saying "around 50 soldiers" were killed in three clashes.
If confirmed, the figure of 50 soldiers killed would represent one of the most deadly strikes against Russian forces in the North Caucasus region since the end of major combat operations in Chechnya several years ago.
Russian Internet news agency Regnum also quoted an unnamed local official from the interior ministry in the Sunzhensky region of Ingushetia where the attack took place saying that "around 50 people" had been killed.
"All the soldiers in the convoy except for one were killed. The number of dead soldiers is around 50 people. The surviving soldier has been sent to Sunzhensky regional hospital," the official told Regnum.
The official also said that three more soldiers were killed and five injured in an ambush on a convoy that came as a reinforcement after the first attack. The wounded soldiers are also in Sunzhensky hospital, the official said.
There was no claim of responsibility for Saturday's violence in a region where there is deep-seated resentment against Russian authorities, who are often accused of human rights abuses and massive corruption.
Officials have blamed similar incidents on Islamist and separatist rebels.
The wide divergence between the tolls reported by mainly state-controlled media and unconfirmed reports highlights the difficulty of obtaining independently verifiable information in an unstable region the Kremlin works hard to portray as under its full control.
"Casualty figures are always notoriously unclear in Russian reports," Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent security analyst, said, adding that a cover-up by the authorities of the true extent of their losses was "a possibility."
"It's a serious attack and it shows how unstable the situation is… The numbers are not really that important. It's a serious attack, a serious ambush. The situation is very tense there now," Felgenhauer said.
In its report on Saturday, the opposition website said the main ambush happened near a spa hotel between the villages of Galashki and Muzhichi close to the regional border with war-ravaged Chechnya.
Hospital sources also said that at least two more soldiers died in an attack on a nearby road between the villages of Surkhakhi and Alkhasty and at least three soldiers arriving as reinforcements were also killed, the website reported.
Officials quoted by Russian news agencies only made reference to an ambush on a troop convoy between the villages of Surkhakhi and Alkhasty, without referring to any separate attack on troops between Galashki and Muzhichi.
The website, though relentlessly critical of the province's leader, Murat Zyazikov, is seen by independent observers as a useful source of information about Ingushetia not reported by Moscow-controlled official media.
During the course of two wars in Chechnya between 1994 and 2004, Russian officials and state-run media regularly omitted reporting on serious losses sustained by Russian troops until long after the fact, if ever.


Obama strikes deep into McCain’s turf as election nears


by Jitendra Joshi*

Democrat Barack Obama yesterday pursued his audacious hunt for votes in America's conservative heartland after rallying monster crowds in the Republican "red" state of Missouri with a rousing call for change.
Just over a fortnight before the November 4 election, the White House hopeful was to campaign in North Carolina — which last voted for a Democratic presidential contender in 1976 but is now a toss-up state.
And Obama's camp was hoping for a landmark endorsement as NBC prepared to air an interview on its politics show yesterday "Meet the Press" with former secretary of state Colin Powell, a Republican military grandee.
For the liberal left, Powell was tarnished by his role in promoting the US invasion of Iraq. But it would be a stern slap to Republican John McCain's candidacy if the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff backed Obama.
McCain, fighting a rearguard offensive as his poll numbers sag, insisted that Obama's economic plan would "kill" job creation as the United States weathers its worst financial crisis in decades.
"At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives," he said Saturday, as his campaign bombarded voters' telephones with "robo-calls" portraying Obama as a closet radical.
But the Democrat, who is riding high in national and state polls, was buoyed by the astonishing numbers he attracted on Saturday in Missouri, which voted for Republican President George W. Bush in the last two elections.
The day's first crowd in St Louis numbered at least 100,000 — Obama's biggest yet in the United States. An evening rally in Kansas City, Missouri's other big metropolis, attracted more than 75,000 supporters.
The 47-year-old candidate bidding to be the nation's first black president said the enormous turnouts were proof "the winds are blowing for change across America," as he bids to flip red states into Democratic "blue."
"They're blowing in Kansas, they're blowing in Missouri, they're blowing in North Carolina, they're blowing in Virginia, they're blowing in Ohio," Obama said, reeling off a list of states that all backed Bush in 2004 and 2000.
The Illinois senator was ahead of McCain by 50 percent to 42 percent in Saturday's Gallup national tracking poll. In the Rasmussen tracking poll, the Democrat was up 50 percent to 45.
But Obama reiterated his message of recent days that supporters should not get "cocky" as he headed to North Carolina and then Florida today for a joint rally with his vanquished primary rival, Hillary Clinton.
"Democrats have a way of snatching defeat from the jaws from victory," he said. "We've got to keep running through that finish line."
At his own rallies in North Carolina and Virginia, another red state now very much in play, McCain Saturday once again invoked Ohio plumber Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher, a new hero to conservatives after challenging Obama on taxes.
"Joe's dream is to own a small business that will create jobs in his community, and the attacks on him are an attack on small businesses all over the country," McCain said as a harsh media spotlight turns on Wurzelbacher.
Joe the Plumber and low taxes have become McCain's latest campaign motifs as the Arizona senator, 72, vies to resuscitate his flagging White House hopes on the final stretch to the election.
McCain intensified an offensive in swing states over Obama's ties to former 1960s radical William Ayers. He unleashed automated phone calls that also accused Obama of supporting the killing of babies born alive in abortions.
McCain himself was undermined by robo-call smears when he was up against Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000, and even party colleagues such as Maine Senator Susan Collins say the tactic smacks of desperation this time.
But the McCain campaign insisted the attack calls were rooted in fact and said the Democratic contender was hoodwinking voters over his past.
For his part, Obama said Americans "can't afford four more years like the last eight."