Bomb kills eight, wounds 93 in Philippine mall

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MANILA, Oct 19 (Reuters) A bomb explosion in an upscale shopping mall in the Philippine capital Manila today killed eight people and wounded at least 93, police and local officials said.

Police initially suspected the blast in the Makati business district was caused by an exploding cooking gas cylinder in a restaurant, but police sources later said they found traces of plastic explosives at the site.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bomb was apparently left near a cellphone repair shop in Glorietta, a sprawling three-storey complex of department stores, high-end fashion boutiques, restaurants, other shops and cinemas.

A general alert has been issued for the rest of the city and for the international airport, officials said. A meeting of the National Security Council was called for later in the day.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

''Circumstances indicate it is highly probable that it was caused by an explosive device,'' President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in an address on local television. ''We assure everyone that a full blown investigation is now under way.'' She said eight people were killed and 70 wounded, but hospital sources later put the number of wounded at 93. Many of them were hit by flying shards of glad from shattered shop windows.

PANIC The blast, which occurred during lunch-hour, spread panic in the city of 12 million people, which has in the past been the scene of attacks by Muslim separatist rebels.

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 mall, hitting cars parked below and spreading a film of dust. Scores of windows in nearby shops were shattered.

Charlie Nepomuceno, an employee at the Glorietta mall, said the powerful explosion appeared to have centred on an escalator which was near the cellphone repair shop.

''It left a deep crater at the foot of the escalator,'' he said. ''It also ripped open the roof of the building. I saw a man thrown on to the roof who had lost a leg.'' He said a badly mangled body of a woman was near the escalator.

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.

In February 2004, more than 100 people were killed when a bomb planted by Abu Sayyaf rebels sank a ferry near Manila Bay, the country's worst terror attack.

REUTERS ARB RK1726

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