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Despite Sunday's surprise rebel ambush of troops advancing on Grozny, the Chechen capital, the Russian military insisted it was gaining ground in its building-by-building drive to seize the heart of the city.

Fighting was fierce Sunday, with Russian troops facing heavy sniper fire during nearly every effort to advance. The military command press center said federal forces "liberated" residential areas, a railway depot, a hospital and a factory near central Grozny.

In Staraya Sunzha, a village just east of Grozny, a group of rebels attacked Russian troops early Sunday in a surprise ambush that killed eight soldiers and wounded eight others.

Grozny, the war's biggest prize, has been under Russian air and artillery fire for months, and troops have been advancing on the area for several weeks. But government forces have yet to wrest control of the city's center from the rebels.

In Moscow, acting President Vladimir Putin said he had "no complaints" about the military's actions in Chechnya. Putin replaced the head of the Interior Ministry troops Saturday. No explanation for the move was given, but observers suggested it reflected government frustration with the failure to seize Grozny.

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