Blast kills eight, wounds 70 at Philippine mall

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MANILA, Oct 19 (Reuters) A blast in a crowded shopping mall killed eight people and wounded at least 70 in the Philippine capital Manila today, police and local officials said.

Police initially suspected the blast was caused by an exploding cooking gas cylinder, but later discounted that theory. They said bomb squad detectives were trying to ascertain what caused the blast.

A general alert has been issued for the rest of the city and for the international airport, officials said.

Jonjon Binay, a local city councillor, said four people were killed on the spot by the blast and four more died in hospital. He said hospitals were treating at least 70 wounded people, many of whom were hit by shards of glass.

The blast, which occurred during lunch-hour at the Glorietta shopping centre in the Makati business district, spread panic in the area, which has in the past been the scene of attacks by Muslim separatist rebels.

''All indications show it was not a LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) explosion,'' national police chief Avelino Razon told reporters at the site. ''We are still trying to ascertain the cause.'' Geary Barias, the city police chief said: ''The damage was extensive.'' Ambulances and police were quickly at the scene, which was cordoned off. Wounded, some of them bloodied, were brought out on stretchers.

Blocks of cement had fallen from an upper storey of the shopping centre, hitting cars parked below and spreading a film of dust.

Scores of windows in nearby shops were shattered.

''I was eating lunch when the ground shook,'' said a security guard who was nearby at the time of the blast. ''I thought it was an earthquake. Then the electricity went off.'' Manila has largely been spared a spate of bomb attacks by Muslim rebels that have plagued the southern Mindanao region. But it has been hit in the past. A series of bomb blasts in 2000 killed at least 22 people.

REUTERS SYU KP1327

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