Explosions, smoke in Congo's Brazzaville

BRAZZAVILLE Sun Mar 4, 2012 3:17pm IST

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BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Three large explosions rocked Brazzaville, the capital of Congo Republic, and a cloud of grey smoke rose over the city early on Sunday, a Reuters witness said.

Witnesses in the city and a spokesman for the government of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo said the blasts came from an arms depot near the banks of the Congo River that separates the two countries.

Officials in Congo Republic, one of sub-Saharan Africa's top oil producers, did not immediately comment.

"There have been three huge explosions, including one that blew out my windows a few minutes ago, and there have been a series of smaller muffled bangs," said the Reuters witness, who lives in Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo, less than 10 km (6 miles) away.

Witnesses in Brazzaville said the explosions happened after parts of the Blinde military camp in the riverside Mpila neighbourhood caught fire. It was not clear how the fire started.

They said houses nearby had collapsed and there were many injured but they could not give details.

The explosions caused panic across the river in Kinshasa but state television there urged residents to remain calm.

Lambert Mende, a spokesman for Democratic Republic of Congo's government, said he had spoken to government officials in Brazzaville who told him there was an accident at a depot containing munitions near the city's Hilton Hotel.

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.

(Reporting by Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa and Christian Tsoumou in Brazzaville; Writing by Richard Valdmanis and David Lewis; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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