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Russia Mourns Ambushed Troops

Thousands of mourners gathered Tuesday to bury soldiers killed in an ambush that shocked Russia and represented one of its worst defeats in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Mourners, many of them weeping, paid their final respects at the Holy Trinity Cathedral to eight soldiers who were among 84 servicemen killed in Chechnya's southern mountains two weeks ago.

The ambushed unit was based in Pskov, 350 miles northwest of Moscow. The bodies of the remaining soldiers, who came from other Russian regions, were to be sent to their hometowns for funerals.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev lauded the soldiers, saying they chose to die rather than retreat. Only six members of the unit survived.

The government has said a priority in its campaign to retake Chechnya is to keep troop casualties low, and the deaths of 84 soldiers in a single engagement came as a shock to many Russians.

Television stations repeatedly ran lists of the victims' names and a memorial service was held Tuesday in Moscow's Novospassky Monastery, conducted by Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Alexey II and attended by acting President Vladimir Putin.

Putin signed a decree decorating the dead soldiers. Twenty-one were awarded the Hero of Russia medal, while 63 were given the Order of Courage. The awards are among the country's highest honors.

Putin is the clear front-runner going into March 26 presidential elections, and the high casualty toll in recent weeks does not appear to have reduced his popularity.

Rebels kept up their intense resistance in the southern Chechen village of Komsomolskoye, which they captured from Russian troops over a week ago, and in the settlements of Ulus-Kert and Selmentauzen.

There is little indication the rebels will give up their fight, even after the capture this weekend of a key rebel leader, Salman Raduyev.

Raduyev was being questioned Tuesday after being brought to Moscow. He was charged Tuesday with premeditated murder, terrorism and hostage-taking, Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov told the Interfax news agency. He said Raduyev would likely face life in prison.

Raduyev was behind a raid on the Russian town of Kizlyar in 1997, when hundreds of hostages were taken, and is suspected of involvement in two deadly railway station bombings.

Authorities in neighboring Dagestan said Tuesday that Adam Dibiyev, a rebel leader from Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city, had been detained and was charged with several kidnappings.

Also Tuesday, a top Russian general said the Chechen capital should be moved from the city of Grozny, where few buildings were left standing after months of Russian air raids.

Col. Gen. Gennady Troshev said the ruined capital would serve as a warning that might deter future moves toward Chechen independence.

Russia began its campaign in Chechnya in September after rebels invaded a neighboring Russian republic. The gvernment said it was time to restore order in Chechnya, which had become lawless since rebel fighters drove out Russian troops at the end of the 1994-96 Chechen war.

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