Powerful bomb blasts injure at least 21 in Latvian capital Riga

RIGA, Latvia - Two bombs ripped through crowds of after-work shoppers in Latvia's capital on Thursday, injuring 21 people and sending bleeding victims staggering into the street.

Shoppers carried out others who had burns, broken limbs and cuts, police and witnesses said. Three people had serious injuries, police said.

The bombs went off minutes apart at around 5:30 p.m. at the five-story Centrs shopping center in the heart of Riga's picturesque, medieval-era old town, police spokesman Krists Leiskalns said.

Among the victims was a top police official, Valdis Pumpers, who suffered minor injuries. Police said they did not believe he was the target, but didn't know of a motive. There was no warning or claim of responsibility, they said.

Police spokesman Leiskalns said investigators were considering the possibility of a ''terrorist attack'' or a ''business dispute.'' He did not elaborate.

There have been dozens of bombings in Riga since Latvia, a former Soviet republic with a population of 2.5 million, regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

But injuries or deaths have been rare. Police say most of the blasts are the result of mob turf battles or extortion rackets.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga condemned the attack and said she was confident police would find the bombers.

Police cordoned off the area as employees, many of them in tears and some wearing bandages, milled around the cobblestone streets outside.

Bartender Valda Bernsons heard the blasts from an Irish pub a block away and ran to the scene. She saw dozens of people, many bleeding, pushing through the center's front doors.

''I started shaking so much that I had to go back to the bar,'' said Bernsons, still looking shaken several hours later. ''I won't be able to sleep tonight.''

Other passers-by said they were shocked.

''I felt the whole situation was unreal and couldn't be happening in Riga,'' said Oksana Smirnova, a journalist near the building when the blasts occurred. ''When I saw the injured, I knew it was for real.''

Centrs is considered the most popular shopping center in Riga, with dozens of fashion boutiques and specialty shops. The bombs went off in an area where people can check their bags while they shop, police said.

The explosions occurred on the ground floor not far from the Norwegian-owned Rimi grocery store. Its general director, Knut Kviskvik, was among those seriously injured, although his condition was not life threatening, the Baltic News Service reported. Details about the other two serious injuries were not immediately available.

Baltic News Service called the explosion the worst since independence.


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