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Dagestan Explosion Death Toll Continues to Rise - 2002-05-10

The death toll from Thursday's explosion in the Russian republic of Dagestan has risen to 41, including at least 13 children. The attack shocked the country as it was celebrating the end of World War II in Europe.

People across Dagestan observed a day of mourning for the victims of Thursday's blast, which happened in the Caspian Sea town of Kaspiisk, north of Azerbaijan.

On Lenin street, where the blast occurred, people gathered to leave flowers and pay their respects to the dead.

Members of a military band, veterans, and civilians were on their way to a ceremony commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany during World War II, when a mine hidden in the bushes exploded.

Russian television showed pictures of the scene. Mangled band equipment lay on the ground, which was covered with blood. Nearby hospitals were flooded with patients and calls from worried relatives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday the explosion was the work of "scum" who hold nothing sacred. He said Russian law enforcement officials will hunt down the people who planted the mine.

Security in Dagestan has been increased, with police stopping cars and people to check their documents. The head of Russia's Federal Security Service flew to Dagestan to investigate the case.

Dagestan borders the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, where rebels have been fighting Russian soldiers for independence.

The violence has sometimes spilled over into neighboring Dagestan. Small-scale bombings are common in the region, and Russian authorities usually blame them on Chechen rebels. But Thursday's bombing was one of the deadliest the country has seen in years.

The explosion took on an added significance, since it came as people across Russia were commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany. About 25 million Soviet citizens died during the war, and the holiday is one of the most important in Russia.

Many world leaders expressed their sympathy. President Bush called Thursday's explosion an "evil act of terror," and said the United States and Russia are joined in a war against terrorism.