Turkmenistan says 15 people dead after explosion

AP News
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Posted: Jul 10, 2011 12:33 PM
Turkmenistan says 15 people dead after explosion

The authoritarian government of Turkmenistan said Sunday that 15 people died after a large explosion rocked a town outside the Turkmen capital earlier this week and lashed out at the coverage of the blast by the Russian media.

The government press service said two soldiers and 13 civilians died as a result of the explosion in Abadan, a town 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the capital, Ashgabat.

The blasts, which began late on Thursday and went on until early Friday, were caused by overheating at a fireworks warehouse that triggered further blasts at a military depot where outdated, Soviet-made ammunition was kept, the press service said in a statement.

An amateur, low-resolution video posted Sunday on a social networking site, however, appears to demonstrate the incident was the result of high explosives detonating. It showed a giant black plume of smoke rising after a blast accompanied by a loud bang and people and cars rushing away from the site.

The video was broadcast by Russian television and posted on independent websites critical of Turkmenistan's government. Russian media claimed dozens died and were wounded during the explosions.

Although websites critical of Turkmen authorities are filtered in Turkmenistan, many are able to watch Russian television channels via numerous satellite dishes that dot every apartment building.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday that Russian television reports about the scale of deaths and destruction are misleading and inaccurate.

Meanwhile, a human rights group said nearly 200 people have died in the blast. About a half of them are military officers and servicemen, said Khronika Turkmenistana, a website run by Vienna-based Turkmen dissident Farid Tukhbatullin.

It cited unnamed locals who also claimed that authorities detained anyone who was trying to take pictures or videos of the debris in Abadan.

Online satellite images show that a large munitions dump is located at the approximate site of the blast, around half a kilometer from apartment blocks.

Abadan is the site of a gas-fired power plant that acts as a major electricity supplier to Ashgabat. Power supplies to the capital failed sporadically Thursday evening.

Arms depot explosions are not unusual across the ex-Soviet Central Asia.

In July 2008, a fire spread to a Soviet-era military base in a town in neighboring Uzbekistan, setting off a chain of blasts that lasted for hours.