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Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 00:06 GMT

World: Europe

Explosion closes oil pipeline

British and US air strikes damaged Iraq's pipeline earlier this month

A bomb explosion has forced the temporary closure of the main oil pipeline between Turkey and Iraq.

The governor of Turkey's southeastern province of Mardin said the bomb was placed on the pipeline and caused a large fire, but damage was not serious.

The explosion happened at 1600GMT on Sunday near the village of Yayvan Tepe.

Officials have blamed saboteurs linked to the Kurdish rebel movement, the PKK, which has targeted the pipeline before.

Meanwhile, violent clashes took place in several of Turkey's main cities as Kurds defied an official ban on celebrations for the New Year festival of Newroz.

There was extremely heavy security in Kurdish areas and hundreds of people have been taken into custody.

Vital outlet for Iraqi oil

The pipeline, which extends from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, runs through rebel strongholds in the mountains.

[ image: Iraq exports 1 million barrels of oil a day]
Iraq exports 1 million barrels of oil a day
It is Iraq's main outlet for exporting crude oil under the oil-for-food agreement with the United Nations.

The deal allows Iraq, which has been under strict UN trade sanctions since invading Kuwait in 1990, to export limited amounts of oil.

Earlier this month, US and British airstrikes hit part of the pipeline in northern Iraq, causing extensive damage.

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