Congo arms depot blast kills 200

 

About 200 people were killed today when an arms dump exploded in Brazzaville, capital of the Congo Republic, a senior official in the presidency said.

Hundreds more were injured by the blasts which rocked the riverside capital of the oil-producing country early in the day, flattening houses near the scene and sending a plume of smoke high above the city.

"According to sources at the central hospital we're talking of around 200 dead and many injured," Betu Bangana, head of protocol in the president's office in Brazzaville, said. "Some people are still (trapped) in their houses... They're saying the entire neighbourhood of Mpila has been destroyed."

Defence minister Charles Zacharie Bowao dismissed any talk of a coup attempt or mutiny, and told state radio that the explosions had been caused by a fire in the arms depot in the Regiment Blinde base in the riverside Mpila neighbourhood.

Panic also spread to Kinshasa, across the Congo River which separates the former French colony from the larger Democratic Republic of Congo, where windows were shattered by the force of the blasts up to 4km away.

Both governments called for calm.

China's Xinhua news agency cited Chinese officials as saying three Chinese workers were killed by the explosion and dozens were injured, some in serious condition.Xinhua said the dead and injured were part of a group of about 140 Chinese workers from the Beijing Construction Engineering Group.

Hours after the main explosions, a plume of grey smoke still hung over the city, witnesses in Kinshasa said.

Congo Republic has suffered coups and a civil war since independence from France. It has been mostly peaceful, however, since president Denis Sassou-Nguesso took power in a coup in 1997.

Reuters