PRISTINA, Serbia (AFP) — A strong blast in the Kosovo capital Pristina killed two people and injured 11 on Monday amid renewed tensions arising from the future of the UN-administered Serbian province.
A double-storey business centre on Bill Clinton Boulevard was severely damaged by the explosion at 2:10 am (0010 GMT), which damaged at least a dozen shops, cafes and restaurants at the premises, police said.
One person was immediately killed, the other died of injuries in a hospital, while another victim was in critical condition, local police and medical authorities said, adding that the others' lives were not threatened.
Police sealed off the area and launched an investigation with NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR.
"It sounded like thunder," a witness who was in a cafe across the street at the time of the incident said as a special KFOR unit searched for other possible explosive devices.
The force of the blast, which apparently targetted the top floor, left shards of glass and debris scattered along the road, including from cars and residential buildings up to 60 metres (65 yards) away.
"I thought the whole of Pristina collapsed. Kids began crying, we were confused, we had no idea what was going on," another witness told AFP, adding that he was thrown out of bed by the explosion.
The blast comes with a "troika" of US, European and Russian envoys struggling to find a breakthrough in delicate talks on the possible independence of Kosovo, an Albanian-majority province of Serbia.
However, in a statement condemning the apparent attack, the Kosovo government said there were no signs of a link between it and the deadlocked talks on the disputed province.
"There is not a single indication that the explosion has any relation with the political process that Kosovo is going through," government spokesman Avni Arifi told AFP.
"The government is fully committed to fight against any crime and to create a peaceful environment," he added.
Council of Europe secretary general Terry Davis also voiced concerns about the deadly blast, which he said was "disturbing even if at this moment the origins of the explosion are not yet known."
"We all hope that this incident will not turn out to be a terrorist attack," he said in a statement received here.
"I am confident that the authorities of Kosovo are investigating the causes of the explosion as a matter of urgency. Meanwhile, we should not rush into any conclusions."
A controversial local businessman, Enver Sekiraca, owns several offices on the second floor of the building that was damaged in the explosion.
The breakaway province's ethnic Albanian leadership and a senior delegation from Serbia, which opposes independence, are to meet this week in New York for direct talks on the final status of Kosovo.
The tiny Balkan territory has been run by the United Nations and NATO since the alliance's 1999 air war drove out forces loyal to late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic over a crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
The incident also comes ahead of provincial elections in Kosovo, whose independence-seeking ethnic Albanians make up around 90 percent of its two million population.
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