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Death Toll Rises Following Russia Suicide Bombing

The death toll continues to rise at the site of a military hospital in southern Russia that was destroyed in a suicide bombing late Friday. At least 35 people are reported to have died in the blast, which is being blamed on Chechen rebels.

Rescue workers are still searching through the rubble of the hospital, which collapsed and caught fire after a truck crashed through its outer gate and exploded. Witnesses say the four-story building caved in almost immediately, trapping many people under the rubble.

Most of the victims were soldiers who had been wounded in nearby Chechnya and medical personnel working in the hospital.

Officials say there were close to 120 people inside the hospital at the time of the explosion, and that the death toll is likely to rise.

The hospital is located in the strategic town of Mozdok, which has been the main base for Russian military operations against Chechen rebels since the first of two wars began almost nine years ago.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov broke off his vacation at the request of President Vladimir Putin to oversee the investigation.

Mr. Putin himself says he wants to know how the truck could have gotten so close to the hospital in the key military town.

This is not the first time suicide bombers have struck at major military or government installations.

Last December, more than 80 people were killed when a truck bomb devastated the main government complex in Chechnya's capital, Grozny. A similar attack against an administration building killed almost 60 people in May.

That same month, Mozdok was also the target of a bombing that killed 16 people, and two suicide bombers killed 15 bystanders at a rock concert in Moscow a few weeks ago.

The incidents complicate efforts by the Kremlin to demonstrate that life is returning to normal in Chechnya.

A Moscow-sponsored referendum on independence was held earlier this year, in which Moscow says Chechens reaffirmed their desire to be part of Russia. Elections for a new leadership are scheduled for October.

But rebel leaders dismiss these efforts and say the only long-term solution is to hold formal peace talks, something Mr. Putin has ruled out.