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30 Injured in Moscow Mall Blast

August 31, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ A powerful explosion Tuesday rocked a crowded shopping mall located just yards from the Kremlin, injuring at least 30 people, police said. Security experts said the blast could have been a bomb.

Police said a video game machine apparently exploded in the underground mall. Viktor Biryukov, spokesman for the Moscow police, said it was unclear whether the evening blast was a bomb or an accident.

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service, Alexander Zdanovich, said: ``Experts are talking about the possibility of an explosive device with the equivalent of 300 grams (11 ounces) of TNT.″

Fire officials evacuated the busy Manezh shopping center, an underground complex just outside the Kremlin, and roped it off. The explosion was on the bottom floor of the complex in a room of video game machines.

Ambulances and fire trucks ringed the area, which is usually thronged with shoppers and tourists, and some nearby streets were blocked off.

Biryukov said 30 people were injured, three of them seriously.

Bombings often occur in Russia to settle disputes between rival criminal gangs and businesses. There was no immediate word that Tuesday’s blast had organized crime connections.

With Russia also preparing for parliamentary elections in December, some officials have warned that there could be politically motivated attacks or provocations.

Zdanovich said, ``No theories have been put forward about politics.″

The Manezh shopping center was one of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s pet projects. Some traditionalists objected to a modern mall just outside the gates of the historic Kremlin. Luzhkov rushed to the scene after the blast.

The mall opened two years ago to great fanfare, and most of the shops sell expensive imported goods ranging from Nike running shoes to fur coats. Last year’s financial crisis was a big blow to the shops, because most Russians can no longer afford imports.

Still, the mall and the surrounding area are popular among tourists and many young Russians, who hang out or go skateboarding and roller blading there. The game room is next to a row of fast food restaurants, and both are popular hangouts for Russian teen-agers.

The area around the Kremlin’s high red brick walls has seen its share of violence recently.

In November, a man blew up his car just outside the Kremlin gates, wounding three guards. The man died of a heart attack in prison two months later.

In May, another man was detained after driving his car onto Red Square and threatened to set himself on fire unless police let him tell journalists about his problems. He set fire to a gasoline can and he was sent to a hospital emergency room.

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