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Putin Visits Scene of Overnight Raid - 2004-06-23

President Vladimir Putin pledges Russia will "destroy" the Chechen rebels who staged a major overnight incursion into a region next to Chechnya that left at least 57 people dead and dozens injured. The Russian leader flew down to Ingushetia to assess the situation.

On a brief trip to southern Russia, late Tuesday, President Putin had a first-hand look at some of the damage caused by the rebels in Monday night's raid.

Mr. Putin denounced the insurgents who attacked police stations and government buildings in Ingushetia's main town, Nazran, and several other villages.

The region's interior minister was among those killed during the attack.

Heavy fighting raged for several hours before the rebels withdrew, leaving many buildings on fire.

The raid dealt a political blow to Mr. Putin, who has long maintained that the separatist war in neighboring Chechnya is all but over.

The ease with which the raid was carried out also raised fears that the long-running conflict could spread to other parts of the volatile Caucasus Mountain region.

Mr. Putin acknowledged the vulnerability of the military forces deployed in Ingushuetia, and says another regiment of interior-ministry troops will be permanently stationed there.

Chechen rebels have been battling Russian forces for most of the last decade in a separatist war that the Kremlin insists is part of the global war on terrorism.