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Gas blast shakes apartment buildings in central Istanbul

By Ece Toksabay

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An explosion caused by a gas leak tore through a residential building near central Istanbul's Taksim Square on Monday, injuring several people and sending debris spewing into a narrow side street, city officials said.

Windows in several multi-storey buildings were blown out and a car tipped onto its side by the force of the blast, which could be heard from across the Bosphorus Strait dividing the city of almost 15 million people.

"We heard a very loud explosion and went out to the street, where we saw a car turned upside down. An injured man and a woman were carried away on stretchers," said Rafet Demir, a 50-year old parking lot manager.

"Police informed residents and shopkeepers that it was a natural gas explosion," he said.

Most residential buildings in central Istanbul use gas for heating and cooking and explosions caused by leaks are not uncommon, although they are rarely so damaging.

Ahmet Misbah Demircan, mayor of the district of Beyoglu where the blast happened, said the explosion came from a small art gallery on the ground floor of the building and that four injured people had been taken to hospital.

Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu and the city police chief both said earlier that initial findings suggested the explosion was caused by a gas leak.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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