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After Denials, Turkmen Officials Admit Blast Caused Casualties



WATCH: Explosions rip through a weapons depot in the Turkmen town of Abadan on July 7.

ASHGABAT -- Turkmen authorities have acknowledged that at least 15 people were killed in explosions in the industrial town of Abadan that caused widespread damage and a mass evacuation of residents on July 7, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

The force of the blasts at a weapons depot and the ammunition that was sprayed throughout the town by the initial explosion destroyed many homes, factories, and some schools, while many others were damaged.

Turkmen authorities had initially insisted the blast was caused by high temperatures at a pyrotechnics warehouse -- a result of the hot weather -- and said nobody was killed.

An official statement released after a government meeting on July 10 said that the death toll was 15, including two soldiers.

Independent sources, including eyewitnesses, had told RFE/RL there were dozens of people killed and injured, most of them soldiers serving at the military base where the armory is located.

Opposition leaders in exile have claimed that as many as 200 people were killed, but those reports could not be confirmed.

The most recent government statement, which came three days after the incident, said the detonation of pyrotechnics led to a fire in a weapons depot of Soviet-era ammunition that was located nearby.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has reportedly fired his deputy defense minister in the wake of the incident.

Berdymukhammedov has also reprimanded Defense Minister Begench Gundogdiyev -- who took up that post just three months ago -- and demoted Gundogdiyev from the rank of general to colonel.

State media outlets claim that all military officers responsible for the incident will be criminally charged.

Berdymukhammedov has vowed that Abadan will be completely rebuilt and modernized. He asked his cabinet members to draft construction projects for the town.

Founded in 1963, Abadan has a population of some 50,000 and is located about 20 kilometers west of downtown Ashgabat.

The official name of the town was Buzmeyin before it was changed by Turkmenistan's late leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, in the early 2000s.

See pictures of the aftermath of the Abadan explosion here:
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