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January 1, 2014

Police, troops heavy in bomb-hit Russian city

VOLGOGRAD, Russia — Eerily empty buses lumbered through the streets, police weighed down with body armor warily watched pedestrians near a fast-food restaurant, and members of Cossack units stood guard at bus stops. Volgograd was an ominous and jittery city Tuesday after two suicide bombings in two days killed 34 people.

Volgograd authorities canceled mass events for New Year’s Eve, one of Russia’s most popular holidays, and asked residents not to set off fireworks. All movie theaters were closed until Thursday.

“People are afraid it will happen again. They’re trying not to go outside if they don’t have to,” said 20-year-old Yulia Kuzmina, a student. “We get a feeling that a war has started.”

That is a worry that extends far beyond Volgograd.

Although there has been no claim of responsibility for the bombing of the city’s main railway station and a trolley bus, suspicion has fallen on Islamist insurgents, whose leader ordered his adherents over the summer to do all they could to derail the Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 7 in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

Olympic organizers have introduced some of the most extensive identity checks and other security measures ever seen at an international sporting event. But even if security at the Games is tight, many analysts suggest that the Volgograd bombings show how public transit in Sochi and sites away from the sports venues are vulnerable.

Police reinforcements and Interior Ministry troops have been sent into Volgograd, regional police official Andrei Pilipchuk was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency. He said more than 5,200 security forces are deployed in the city of 1 million, but did not say how much of an increase that was from normal levels.

Officers and security guards searched the purses of young women entering a shopping center and waved metal detectors over both males and females.

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