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Seven injured as blasts rock Russia before Olympic Games

Five Russian civilians and two policemen were reported injured on Friday in a restaurant attack in Dagestan which is home to insurgents who have threatened to strike next month's Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

MOSCOW: Five Russian civilians and two policemen were reported injured on Friday in a restaurant attack in Dagestan which is home to insurgents who have threatened to strike next month's Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

"The first explosion came when a grenade launcher fired at the second floor of the restaurant. The second came when a parked car blew up," an interior ministry source in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus republic of Dagestan was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.

The unidentified security source had initially said that the blasts in the republic's capital Makhachkala had led to several fatalities.

But the republic's interior ministry quickly issued an official statement saying that no one had been killed.

The Interfax news agency quoted its own local interior ministry source as saying that five civilians were inured in the initial grenade launcher strike on the Golden Empire restaurant.

The two policeman were reported hurt when a small Russian-made car blew up shortly after security officials had arrived at the scene.

The violence was reported only moments after state television aired an interview with President Vladimir Putin in which he vowed to ensure full security at next month's Games, despite fears of a resumption of an Islamist-linked suicide bombing campaign.

"Our goal -- the goal of the organisers -- is to ensure the security of Olympic Games participants and guests," Putin said in an excerpt of a pre-recorded interview with foreign reporters aired on Russian state television on Friday.

"If we betray weakness, betray fear -- display our fear -- then we will be helping terrorists achieve their goals," said Putin.

"I think that the international community... must unite its efforts in the fight with... acts of terror, the murder of innocent civilians."

The suicide bombings at a railway station and on a trolleybus in the southern Russian city of Volgograd in late December that investigators linked to suspects from Dagestan killed 34 people and injured dozens.

Islamist insurgents based in North Caucasus republics such as Dagestan who are seeking their own independent state have vowed to disrupt the Sochi Games in order to undermine Putin.

But the Dagestani interior ministry took pains on Friday to dismiss speculation that Makhachkala had been subjected to another insurgents' attack.

"For the moment, our main suspicions are that this was either a showdown between local criminal groups or an act of hooliganism," the local interior ministry's press spokesman told Interfax.

The strongman leader of Dagestan's neighbouring republic of Chechnya had earlier on Friday also claimed that the main guerrilla leader who had threatened attacks against Sochi was now dead.

Chechnya's Ramzan Kadyrov claimed Doku Umarov -- a bearded rebel who has haunted Russia for almost a decade and who styles himself as the "Caucasus Emir" -- was killed in a security operation.

"We are 99.9 per cent sure of this," Kadyrov said in a statement published on the Chechen government's website.

"I said before that he was no longer alive, but now we have received a recording of a conversation of so-called 'emirs' where they announce his death... and discuss candidates to replace him as emir."

Umarov has been reported dead on repeated occasions in recent years and Russian security officials said they could not confirm the latest claim.

"We cannot confirm the death of Doku Umarov. We do not have any such information," a source in Russian security services told Interfax.

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