Explosive device kills guard in Tajik capital

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DUSHANBE, Nov 14 (Reuters) An explosive device went off in the Tajik capital Dushanbe today, killing a security guard outside a building where the country's prime minister had been due to make a speech, officials and witnesses said.

A Reuters witness at the scene said at least one body covered with a sheet lay on the pavement outside a conference hall located 300 metres (yards) from the presidential palace.

Security services said the explosive device, planted in a plastic bag outside the building, went off when the guard tried to remove it.

''He (guard) picked it up and the bag exploded in his hands,'' Kasym Dafarov, a senior national security service official, told reporters at the scene.

Prime Minister Akil Akilov had been due to attend a conference at the Soviet-built hall later in the day. Police and rescue workers have cordoned off the area.

Dushanbe, a city of about one million people in the mostly Muslim former Soviet country, was at the centre of a bloody civil war in the 1990s which pitted Moscow-backed secular forces against an alliance of Islamists and opposition-minded liberals.

Tajikistan, an impoverished nation bordering Afghanistan, has been calm in past years as officials focused more on rebuilding the nation's ruined economy.

Its long-serving president, Imomali Rakhmon, has blamed Islamist militants for trying to destabilise the situation in a country which lies on one of the main drugs trafficking routes to Europe from Afghanistan.

But some human rights groups have accused Rakhmon of using the threat as an excuse to crack down on dissent and religious freedom in the tightly run Central Asian country.

REUTERS SV KP1117

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