Fierce fighting raged for hours in a city in southern Russia after gunmen launched attacks against government buildings and police stations. Russian news reports say more than 70 people, including 50 militants were killed by the fighting in a region near Chechnya, where Russian troops have been battling separatist rebels for more than a decade.
Police and security forces fought running gun battles with groups of gunmen in various parts of Nalchik, a major city in the Caucasus Mountains.
The gunmen launched simultaneous, early morning assaults against government buildings as well as police stations.
Shooting was also reported at a school, raising fears of another hostage-taking siege such as the one that occurred last year in the town of Beslan that killed more than 300 people. But security officials later said that all of the children had been evacuated.
Officials say troops also managed to repel an attempt to seize the city's airport.
The center of the city has been sealed off by police., who are now locating bodies and people wounded in the fighting amid conflicting reports on the death toll.
[Russia's interior minister is demanding Islamic militants holding hostages in the ity of to surrender. Rashid Nurgaliev said late Thursday that no one is going to wait forever for the gunmen to give up. Authorities say they are under orders from President Vladimir Putin to kill anyone putting up armed resistance. The gunmen are said to be holding a total of eight hostages at a police station and a souvenir shop.]
Nalchik is the capital of Kabardino-Balkariya, a region near the breakaway republic of Chechnya where Russian troops have been battling separatist fighters for more than a decade.
Many of the small, ethnically-diverse republics near Chechnya have seen a rise in Islamic militancy in recent years, with violent shoot-outs and bombings occurring frequently.
Many such incidents are linked to the conflict in Chechnya.
But Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow says there are many reasons for the violence. "The situation in the North Caucasus is very unstable, due to the poor economic situation, due to political turmoil," he explained, "and it clearly shows the federal government in Moscow does not control the situation there completely."
Analysts have long warned that the Kremlin's tough military approach to Chechnya might well force the conflict to spread in the region.