Death toll rises in Russia bombing to 50
( 2003-08-03 15:20) (Agencies)
Rescuers called off the search operation Sunday for victims of a suicide truck-bomb blast, after pulling the body of a surgical nurse out of the ruins of a military hospital near Chechnya and saying hope had disappeared of finding any survivors in the rubble.
With the discovery of the nurse's body and at least four others overnight, the death toll rose to 50, said Lt. Col. Yuri Miroshnichenko, spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry in southern Russia. Sixty-four injured remained hospitalized, he said.
Authorities said they didn't expect to find any more bodies and the operation switched to a clean-up effort at the site of the four-story brick hospital, which collapsed like a house of cards when an unidentified driver rammed a truck full of explosives into it Friday night.
Russian officials said they suspected Chechen rebels were behind the attack at the hospital in the North Ossetia region city of Mozdok, since it bore similarities to other blasts and targeted a facility treating Russian soldiers injured fighting in Chechnya.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Saturday that terrorists acts will not stop what he called efforts aimed at fostering peace in Chechnya, where Russian forces have battled separatists in two wars during the last decade.
In a condolence telegram, Putin called the bombing ``yet another confirmation of the inhumanity and cruelty of the bandits who are trying to destabilize the situation in the Northern Caucasus'' - the region that includes Chechnya. A series of suicide bombings blamed on Chechen rebels - including last month's double suicide bombing at a rock festival in Moscow - have killed about 150 people since May.
``But the terrorists will not succeed in imposing their criminal will,'' said the telegram, distributed by Putin's press service.
Putin has refused to negotiate with rebels and has instead tried to sideline
them. He endorsed a March constitutional referendum, which asked Chechens to
approve their republic's status as part of Russia. The referendum overwhelmingly
passed, according to official ballot results, and now will be followed by a
Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the disaster was compounded by military commanders' negligence in not enforcing security rules.
The attack prompted an order for round-the-clock patrols at hospitals, oil and energy facilities and major buildings across Chechnya, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.
On Saturday, the Emergency Situations Ministry had said that the dead included at least 19 military personnel, 12 local residents and eight hospital employees. The bodies of five people initially believed to be trapped alive under the rubble were pulled out Sunday, dashing all hope of finding any survivors, emergency officials said Sunday.
Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya following a 1994-1996 war that left
separatists in charge. They returned in 1999 - with Putin, then prime minister,
gaining popularity for his tough stance against the rebels - after a series of
1999 apartment-building bombings, which killed 300 people. Ivanov said Saturday
that explosives used in the latest attack resembled those used in the apartment
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