Natural Gas Pipeline Explodes in Turkey

An explosion Saturday caused a huge fire on a natural gas pipeline in eastern Turkey, the Energy Ministry said.

The explosion occurred in Turkey's eastern province of Agri, Energy Ministry spokesman Bulent Ismen said.

The region's governor, Halil Ibrahim Akpinar, said autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels were suspected of carrying out an attack. He did not say if a bomb had caused the explosion.

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The state-owned Anatolia news agency said the pipeline was carrying Iranian natural gas. Ismen said the fire was on a pipeline carrying gas within Turkey.

Earlier, a paramilitary police official in Agri and the private NTV television had said that the fire was on the newly inaugurated pipeline carrying oil from the Caspian Sea to Turkey.

The paramilitary official said the fire was visible from miles away. The blast was so powerful it shook houses in nearby villages, the private Dogan news agency reported.

Pipeline authorities closed down a nearby pumping station but it was too dangerous for them to reach a main valve, Ismen said.

Gas flows to the nearby province of Erzincan were cut, he said.

Paramilitary police meanwhile, sealed off the area and fire-extinguishing teams were dispatched to the region.

Rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, have sabotaged pipelines in the past as part of their struggle for an autonomous homeland in southeastern Turkey. More than 37,000 people have been killed since the rebels took up arms in 1984.

The group is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey is pressing the United States and Iraq to crack down on the rebels, many of whom are based in northern Iraq.

Turkey has been importing natural gas from Iran through the 1,598-mile pipeline since 2001. Turkish and Iranian officials are reportedly discussing expanding the pipeline for exports to Europe.