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Three Killed In Blast At Uzbek Arms Depot

TASHKENT -- A series of explosions at a Soviet-era arms depot in southern Uzbekistan has killed at least three people and smashed windows in buildings several miles away, official media and witnesses said.

The blast occurred in the town of Kogon outside the ancient Silk Road town of Bukhara, near a helicopter base used by Soviet forces in the 1980s to support military operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

The UzA news agency, which conveys the government line, said the explosions, caused by a fire at a missile and artillery ammunition depot, killed at least three people and wounded 21.

"All those injured are being given necessary medical assistance," UzA said, citing the Emergency Situations Ministry. It added the Defense Ministry had cordoned off the area around the depot.

A local witness, who spoke to Reuters anonymously because of the sensitivity of the matter in the tightly run Central Asian nation, said the explosions shattered windows in her apartment in Bukhara, roughly 12 kilometers away from the site.

"I was working on my laptop when I heard a massive explosion which broke the windows. Then the sky lit up like at dawn," she said.

"Witnesses say there are many casualties. Hospitals are all full, many are being sent to regional hospitals," she added.

There was no official word on the casualties. Local media reported the explosions were caused by a fire and that the Uzbek emergency situations minister was at the site to coordinate efforts.

Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov has been in power since 1989, is Central Asia's most populous nation. The government tolerates little dissent and is accused by the West of violating human rights.