bomb blast devastated a marketplace in downtown Vladikavkaz
Web posted at: 5:36 p.m. EST (2236 GMT)
MOSCOW (CNN) -- A bomb ripped through a crowded market in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz on Friday, killing at least 62 people and wounding scores of shoppers.
Television showed the bloodstained wreckage of market stalls strewn with bodies amid heaps of potatoes and clothing. Paramedics wheeled wounded victims on market pushcarts into waiting ambulances.
An anonymous group claimed responsibility. Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered his interior minister and the head of Russia's Federal Security Service to Vladikavkaz to lead an investigation into the bombing.
Police were treating it as a terrorist act and were searching for two suspects, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Politicians across the spectrum called it an attempt to destabilize Russia further.
Yeltsin, who had left the hospital Thursday after lengthy treatment, offered an extraordinary message of condolence on television.
"I apologize to the families of the victims. I apologize, because I
carry the responsibility for it all," Yeltsin said slowly. "I also declare
we will fight (the bombers) mercilessly."
|More than 60 people were killed|
Medical and emergency rescue teams from around the region were sent to Vladikavkaz, the capital of the Russian province Alania, or North Ossetia, to help overwhelmed local hospitals.
Residents crying and shaking with grief searched through the debris for survivors or helped ferry the injured to the hospital in ambulances and cars. Dozens of police officers and soldiers joined in the search.
"There are many killed and injured. The situation is very confused," a police officer said before hanging up abruptly.
Police were baffled and unable to offer any motive for the bombing. Possible reasons include ethnic tension, extremism from nearby Chechnya, or a turf war between criminal gangs.
Late Friday, Yeltsin's representative in North Ossetia and neighboring Ingushetia said a "diversionary group" had claimed responsibility for the blast in a long-distance phone call to Vladikavkaz, ITAR-Tass reported.
Vladimir Kalamanov said the group had not identified itself but that its message suggested the motive was "religious fanaticism." The majority religion in North Ossetia is Orthodox Christianity, and several of its neighbors are predominantly Muslim.
North Ossetia was the scene of the first major ethnic war in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1992, ethnic Ossets clashed with rival Ingush over rights to the province's fertile land.
Although the fighting receded, the conflict has not been resolved.
"I think we're facing the crisis of power in general in Russia. We are facing the crisis of federalism; we are facing the crisis of (an) ethno-territorial principle of state-building," said political analyst Vitaly Naumkin.
Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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The Republic of North Ossetia - Alania
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