Explosion of pipeline plunges Armenia into cold and dark


MOSCOW -- The tiny republic of Armenia, shivering throug its third straight winter of wartime fuel shortages, plunged deeper into darkness yesterday after an explosion in neighboring Georgia severed its only energy supply from the outside.

The explosion ruptured a gas pipeline in Marneuli, a rural district of Georgia populated mainly by Azerbaijanis. Armenians and Azerbaijanis are waging an undeclared war that has claimed more than 3,000 lives and created a half-million refugees in the past four years.

A Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman, Maj. Alexander Duali, said the pipeline blew up Friday night. "So far we cannot say whether it was an act of sabotage or just a technical fault," he said.

Officials in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, said the gas cutoff deprived almost all the landlocked country's 3.4 million people of heat and light on a day when the thermometer dipped to zero.

They said the blackout halted the city's subways, silenced radio and television broadcasts, and shut down most telephone exchanges.

Authorities later opened a dam to allow water from Sevan Lake to restart a hydroelectric plant that would keep vital services operating.

"We are on the verge of a terrible catastrophe," said Eduard Kazaryan, a government spokesman.

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