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Russia: Daghestan Explosion Kills At Least 25, Wounds More Than 100

Prague, 9 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- At least 25 people were killed and more than 100 others injured today -- 50 of them seriously -- when a remote-controlled mine exploded during a military parade in the southern Russian republic of Daghestan.

The blast occurred in the city of Kaspiisk during a Victory Day parade marking the 57th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The victims included navy infantrymen, who are based in the Caspian port city, as well as children, musicians in a military band, and World War II veterans. The blast hit them as they were marching toward the city's main cemetery to lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Daghestan's First Deputy Chief Prosecutor Haybullah Aliev, speaking on Russia's NTV television network, described the immediate aftermath.

"All were affected by the blast. There were servicemen, civilians, children, and elderly people among the casualties. There were many casualties," Aliyev said.

As the wounded were transported to hospitals around the republic, an emotional Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to carry out a quick and thorough investigation.

"Crimes of this type and degree of atrocity can only produce lots of emotions, but at the same time these emotions must not interfere with our work in conducting a thorough and objective investigation of this crime and tracking down and punishing the criminals as soon as possible," Putin said.

Putin spoke from Moscow, where moments before he had been reviewing the annual Victory Day parade on the Russian capital's Red Square. Ironically -- addressing the crowd just minutes prior to the Daghestan blast -- Putin said Russia is uniting against the new threat of terrorism. He warned Russians to remain ever-vigilant against potential new enemies.

"The forces of evil and violence reappear again and again on the face of this Earth. They have other names today, but old ways. They still bring death and destruction, and we have no right to forget that, at any minute, they can become as dangerous as Nazism," Putin said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the deadly explosion, but official suspicion is likely to fall on separatists operating from the neighboring war-torn republic of Chechnya. Kaspiisk is home to a large Russian military presence.

And in the Chechen capital, Grozny, today, separatists fired grenades on a stadium where Russian forces and Chechen civilians were also celebrating the anniversary of the victory over Nazism. Four police officers were reportedly injured, and the festivities were cut short.

The city of Kaspiisk itself is no stranger to attacks. In November 1996, the city was hit by a massive bomb that destroyed an apartment building housing Russian border guards. Sixty-eight people were killed. Although many officials blamed that explosion on Chechen separatists, the culprits were never found.

Officials have appealed for blood donations, and Russia's armed forces are setting up a field hospital in Kaspiisk to treat the injured. Many of the wounded have been sent to hospitals 20 kilometers away in the Daghestani capital, Makhachkala.

(Aslan Doukayev of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service contributed to this report.)