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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 March 2008, 22:09 GMT
Albanian weapons blast toll rises
Fire from munitions dump explosions burns overnight in Albania
Explosions continued after dark on Saturday

At least nine people are now known to have been killed by a series of massive explosions at an arms dump near the Albanian capital, Tirana.

More than 240 others were injured in the blasts. Some have been transferred to hospitals in Italy and Greece.

The government said more than 300 buildings in the area had been completely destroyed.

Rescuers searching the site of the explosions, which lasted 18 hours, have stopped work for the night.

"The search will resume tomorrow morning because it is impossible to work at night in the zone, with a lot of unexploded shells and munitions that are a danger to everyone," said Albania's chief of staff, Gen Luan Hoxha.


Sunday saw rescuers find three charred bodies at the arms dump, and the body of a woman in a nearby house. Five bodies were recovered on Saturday.

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha told reporters that at least a dozen people were still believed to be missing.

Mr Berisha said he had ordered the country's chief prosecutor to oversee investigations into the blasts.

The village of Gerdec adjoining the base has been declared an emergency zone, and Mr Berisha promised aid for villagers who had lost their homes.

"As soon as the damage is fully assessed, the government will commit all its resources to quickly react and rebuild the totally destroyed zone," he said.

Nato membership

The accident happened as specialists were dismantling obsolete munitions at the site - some of the vast quantity amassed during Albania's communist years, and some dating back to 1945.

Albanian military experts were being assisted by employees of a US company contracted by Nato to help them dispose of surplus munitions. There were no reports of foreigners having been on the site at the time of the blasts.

Albania has about 100,000 tons of ammunition stored in former army depots across the country, according to Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu.

Destroying the old munitions is one of the conditions Albania must fulfil to become a member of Nato.

Along with Croatia and Macedonia, Albania hopes to be invited to join the Western military alliance at a summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest early next month.

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