ISTANBUL (Reuters) – An explosion believed to have been caused by a gas leak ripped through a crowded tourist market in Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul on Thursday–killing six people and wounding scores more.
The blast went off at the doorway of Istanbul’s 17th century Egyptian Bazaar–also known as the Spice Market–on the banks of the Golden Horn waterway. Part of the monumental gateway collapsed–trapping people under the rubble.
Interior Minister Murat Basesgioglu said earlier fears that a bomb may have caused the blast were probably misplaced.
"There is no evidence right now to say that it was a bomb,” state-run Anatolian news agency quoted him as saying.
Police bomb experts who inspected the scene said they had not found any evidence of a bomb and pointed to gas from canisters at a stall selling hot snacks in the bazaar as the most likely cause–Anatolian said.
"It was due to a build-up of gas," Istanbul chief prosecutor Farzan Citici told reporters.
A number of foreigners were among the nearly 100 people injured–local government officials said.
Three French–three Germans–two Norwegians–an Iraqi and an Iranian were being treated in local hospitals.
Broken chairs–food and lumps of stone were strewn on the ground. Witnesses said two children were among the dead.
People from nearby stalls in the bazaar–popular with foreign tourists–rushed to the scene to help pull the dead and injured from under the rubble.
"There was a loud bang. There were many wounded and cries for help coming from under the rubble. There were a lot of women and children injured,” said Metin Cakir–a waiter at a restaurant close to the bazaar.
Injured people with blood-stained clothing were rushed to hospitals in taxis because of a lack of ambulances.
Istanbul police chief Hasan Ozdemir said earlier a bomb could have been the cause.
"The explosion could have been caused by gas leaking from a canister or explosive materials left at the scene,” Anatolian quoted Ozdemir as saying.
Far-leftists–Islamists and member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have all staged bomb attacks in Turkish cities in the past.
Nine people were injured–including three foreign tourists–in a bomb blast in April near a tourist site close to the scene of Thursday’s explosion. Four alleged PKK members were charged with that attack.
President Suleyman Demirel sent a message of sympathy to Thursday’s victims.
"I felt extremely saddened by the news of the sad explosion which killed and wounded a number of citizens. May God have mercy on the dead–I offer my condolences to their loved ones and I wish a speedy recovery to those injured,” he said in a statement.