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Grenade kills two in Moldova during attempted cigarette theft

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Investigators carry the body of a victim, killed by a grenade blast in a shop, in central Chisinau, Moldova March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Viktor Dimitrov TEMPLATE OUT

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Two people were killed in a shop in Moldova’s capital on Tuesday when a grenade brandished by a man seeking to avoid paying for cigarettes exploded, police said.

The small former Soviet republic has been locked in a frozen conflict with the pro-Moscow breakaway region of Transdniestria since the early 1990s, but accidents linked to the misuse of military ordnance are rare.

The grenade blast occurred in central Chisinau at around midday, Senior Inspector Alexandru Pinzari told a briefing.

“The explosion happened as he left the shop. The thief himself died ... and also an as yet unidentified passerby on the street,” Pinzari said.

He did not name the perpetrator, but said he was born in 1968 and had previous convictions.

The nation of 3.5 million people, sandwiched between Ukraine and European Union member Romania, is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Heinrich