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Explosion hampers gas supplies to the Balkans

RUSSIAN gas supplies to the Balkans fell 40 percent yesterday after a blast damaged a pipeline in Moldova, which said the accident happened because the link was over 30 years old.

Turkey and Bulgaria reported a drop in deliveries and said they would draw on reserves of the fuel, while Romania said it was not experiencing problems. The pipeline runs to the three countries from Russia via Ukraine and Moldova.

Ukraine said supplies reached 85-90 percent of normal flows by yesterday evening but it would take between two to five days to restore gas supplies in full.

Bulgaria said it also saw full supplies being restored in three days.

"This accident ... is linked to the fact that the age of this pipeline has exceeded 30 years," the interior ministry of Transdniestria, Moldova's separatist region, said on its Website.

"There is no talk of terrorism," said Moldovan government spokesman Vitalie Condratchi.

The blast occurred yesterday morning, damaging one of the three pipelines on the Ananyev-Tiraspol-Izmail route.

The explosion created a 5-meter hole and a gas flame 1 kilometer high, said Ernest Vardanyan, a reporter from Transdniestria's Novy Region newspaper.

Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom, which supplies a quarter of Europe's gas needs, regularly suffers from supply disruptions due to the age of pipelines and equipment across the former Soviet Union region.

In January, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey experienced supply problems when Russia cut supplies because of a pricing dispute with Ukraine. The row revived fears in Europe about over-dependence on Russian gas.

Russian gas transit flows via Moldova to the Balkans usually amount to 40 million cubic metres per day and the blast cut them to 24mcm.

Gazprom said it would also boost supplies via two undamaged links in Moldova but did not say when normal flows could resume.


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