Ukraine crisis: Blast injures Luhansk rebel leader Plotnitsky

Igor Plotnitsky. File photo Image copyright AP
Image caption Igor Plotnitsky is now in a stable condition, rebels say

The leader of a self-proclaimed separatist republic in eastern Ukraine, Igor Plotnitsky, has been injured in a bomb attack, rebel officials confirmed.

A blast hit a car carrying Igor Plotnitsky, head of the Luhansk People's Republic, in the city of Luhansk. Two others were also hurt.

Mr Plotnitsky, 52, is said to be stable after hospital treatment.

The rebels said Ukrainian "saboteurs" might be behind the attack - a claim denied by the Ukrainian authorities.

Describing Saturday's attack as a "terrorist" act, the pro-Russian rebels pledged to punish the perpetrators.

They say an explosive device was planted near a set of traffic lights and detonated when Mr Plotnitsky's car was passing at about 08:00 local time (11:00 GMT).

Image copyright BBbc

A number of rebel commanders have been killed in similar attacks in recent months, sparking some speculation about a power struggle within rebel ranks.

The Luhansk People's Republic and the larger Donetsk People's Republic were proclaimed by the separatists shortly after conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

More than 9,500 people - including many civilians - have since been killed in the two regions.

A ceasefire was agreed in February 2015 but both sides accuse each other of almost daily shelling across the separation line.

The clashes in the east began shortly after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula.

Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of arming the rebels and sending Russian regular troops to fight in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin denies deploying troops but admits that Russian volunteers have been fighting alongside the rebels.