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DATE=12/7/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / CHECHNYA (L UPDATE) NUMBER=2-256933 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia has brushed aside the outpouring of international outrage at its five-day "leave or die" ultimatum to Chechens in Grozny, calling it -- counterproductive. Moscow correspondent Peter Heinlein reports newly arrived refugees from the rebel capital are asking for an extension of the deadline. TEXT: As expressions ranging from concern to condemnation poured in from around the world, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stood firm. Mr. Putin, who has seen his popularity ratings soar from zero to the top of public opinion polls in recent months, dismissed the foreign pressure as being well- intentioned, but misguided. ///// PUTIN ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER ///// He says -- if foreign governments are concerned, let them pressure not just Russia, but also the bandits. And foreign ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin called foreign criticism -- counterproductive and harmful to both sides. The avalanche of international concern was touched off when Russian planes dropped leaflets warning residents to get out of the Chechen capital by Saturday or risk destruction. /// OPT /// President Clinton was one of the first to speak out, saying Russia would pay a heavy price if it destroys Grozny's civilian population. Britain, France, Italy, and the U-N refugee agency issued similarly strong statements. The European Union warned it might impose economic sanctions on Russia at a summit in Helsinki later this week. /// END OPT /// In an attempt to stem the tide of foreign criticism, the military commander in charge of Chechnya operations, Viktor Kazantzev, backed away from the ultimatum. He said the "leave or face death" leaflets were intended only as a warning. /// KAZANTZEV ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says -- there was no ultimatum to civilians, only a warning to bandits to change their minds and lay down their weapons. Russian commanders say they have opened a corridor to allow safe passage for those wishing to escape Grozny. But reports from the war zone suggest few, if any, people are using it. The ITAR-Tass news agency says newly arrived Chechen refugees in neighboring Ingushetia are pleading for an extension of the Saturday deadline. The Tass dispatch said most people still in the city are not aware of the ultimatum, because high winds blew away the leaflets. Ingushetia's president, Ruslan Aushev, says as many as 40-thousand civilians are still in Grozny, which in pre-war days had a population of 300-thousand. He predicts large numbers will die if the bombing threat is carried out. But Russian officials say the number of non-combatants in the rebel capital is probably no more than 15- thousand. /// REST OPT /// Even though public support for the war has remained solid within Russia, the latest ultimatum has prompted a few criticisms. Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov cautioned that Russia should take care not to isolate itself politically from the west. The fiercest criticism came from the Russian Association of Soldiers' Mothers, which issued a statement Tuesday calling the threat of wholesale war on Grozny -- tantamount to genocide of the Chechen people. (SIGNED) NEB/PFH/JWH/RAE 07-Dec-1999 13:25 PM EDT (07-Dec-1999 1825 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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