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Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK

World: Europe

Moscow plagued by terror

The fact police are treating the blast as sabotage increases the horror

By Russian Affairs Analyst Malcolm Haslett

The destruction of a second block of flats in Moscow in five days by what appears to be a bomb has chillingly brought home the vulnerability of ordinary Muscovites to acts of violence.

Most people in Moscow live in just such a block as the two destroyed in the past week, in Guryanova Street and now on the busy Kashirskoye boulevard on the city's south side.

In both cases, the multi-storeyed buildings collapsed in a heap of rubble. The people asleep inside had little chance of escape, whether they were on the top storeys or lower down.

Housing hazards

Many of Moscow's apartment blocks were built rapidly from pre-fabricated panels in the post-war years, to house the dramatic expansion of the population which now stands at more than 10 million.

These blocks have always been vulnerable to fire and gas explosions, like the one last year which killed six people. But the scale of this week's blasts dwarfs that tragedy, and the fact that police are treating it as a deliberate act of sabotage further increases the horror.

Volunteer patrols to guard the entrances of the Russian capital's 120,000 buildings had already been organised after last Thursday's blast. These will now be stepped up.

Mass deaths

But in a city the size of Moscow, it is a huge task to make all the blocks secure. People will have been made even more nervous by news reports that further caches of explosives have been located near the scene of the latest blast, including one in a school.

Muscovites have witnessed politically motivated violence before, in the form of explosions on the metro system. But it has never before reached the level in terms of sheer horror of these mass deaths of people in their own homes.

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