GROZNY, Russia — A 45-story building in the middle of Grozny meant to showcase the regeneration of the capital of Russia's Chechnya region after years of civil war was engulfed in flames on Wednesday.
Dozens of fire crews battled for hours to extinguish the fire that spread quickly through the newly built and vacant building — the highest in the city that was once a byword for destruction and chaos during two wars in the 1990s.
"It's so sad to see this happening because this has been a symbol of peace, a symbol of the end of the war in Chechnya, the only attraction in the city, everybody was proud of it," said Temila Sagaipova in Grozny.
"I hope they will rebuild it soon so as not to let a burnt down ruin sit in the middle of the city," she added, standing in a crowd of some 600 people who gathered to watch as flames leaped up one side of the building and spread inside.
Officials said an electrical short circuit rather than a rebel arson attack was the most likely cause of the fire on the shiny steel and glass structure, part of a new business and residential development called Grozny City near the capital's main mosque and local government offices.
More than a decade after Moscow re-established control over Chechnya, violence is still an almost daily phenomenon in parts of the restive republic in the North Caucasus where insurgents say they are fighting to set up a separate Islamist state.
Rights groups say the revolt is also driven by corruption and grievances against the strong-arm tactics of Moscow-backed Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, and his forces.
Activists accuse Kadyrov's security services of carrying out kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings to try to quash an Islamist insurgency.
He denies the accusations and points to Grozny's new architecture as a symbol of peace and his personal success.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.