MINSK, BELARUS: Subway Explosion Kills 11 – Many More Injured: UPDATED

11 Apr

 

Blast at Belarus metro station kills several people
 Reuters – People carry a victim of a blast on a stretcher in central Minsk, April 11, 2011. REUTERS/Anton Motolko

Explosion hits Belarus subway Slideshow:Explosion hits Belarus subway

 
By YURAS KARMANAU, Associated Press Yuras Karmanau, Associated Press :

MINSK, Belarus – An explosion tore through a key subway station in the Belarusian capital of Minsk during evening rush hour Monday killing 11 people and wounding 126. An official said the blast was a terrorist act.

President Alexander Lukashenko did not say what caused the explosion at the Oktyabrskaya subway station, but suggested outside forces could be behind it.

“I do not rule out that this gift could have been brought from outside,” Lukashenko said. The authoritarian leader, under strong pressure from the West over his suppression of the opposition, has frequently alleged outside forces seek to destabilize his regime.

Deputy prosecutor-general Andrei Shved said the blast was a terrorist act, but did not give further details.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw heavily wounded people being carried out of the station, including one person with missing legs.

Seven killed in Belarus terror blast

Several witnesses told The Associated Press that the explosion hit just as passengers were stepping off a train about 6 p.m. (1500 GMT). The Oktyabrskaya station, where Minsk’s two subway lines intersect, was crowded with passengers at the end of the work day.

The station is within 100 meters (yards) of the presidential administration building and the Palace of the Republic, a concert hall often used for government ceremonies.

Lukashenko visited the site about two hours after the blast and left without comment. He later ordered that the country’s feared police to “call in all forces and turn everything inside-out” to investigate the blast.

About five hours after the blast, Health Minister Vasily Zharko said 11 people were killed and 126 people were wounded, 22 of them severely.

One witness, Alexei Kiklevich, said at least part of the station’s ceiling collapsed after the explosion.

Igor Tumash, 52, said he was getting off a train when “there was a large flash, an explosion and heavy smoke. I fell on my knees and crawled … bodies were piled on each other.”

He said he saw a man with a severed leg and rushed to help him. “But then I saw he was dead,” Tumash said.

Political tensions have been rising in Belarus since December, when a massive demonstration against a disputed presidential election sparked a harsh crackdown by police in which more than 700 people were arrested, including seven presidential candidates.

Lukashenko, who was declared the overwhelming winner of the disputed Dec. 19 election, has run Belarus, a former Soviet republic, with an iron fist since 1994. He exercises overwhelming control over the politics, industry and media in this nation of 10 million, which borders Russia, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic nations.

Belarus’ beleaguered opposition has been largely peaceful for years, with only a few clashes with police.

In July 2008, a bomb blast at a concert attended by Lukashenko injured about 50 people in Minsk. No arrests in the case were reported.

But Lukashenko said Monday that the subway blast could have been connected to that bombing.

___

Associated Press Writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report

NEWS UPDATE:

A view shows the site of the explosion at the metro station Oktyabrskaya in Minsk
Reuters – The site of the explosion at the metro station Oktyabrskaya in Minsk, April 11, 2011. REUTERS/BelTA/Handout/Andrei …

 
By Andrei Makhovsky Andrei Makhovsky : UPDATED:

MINSK (Reuters) – Police in Belarus carried out spot checks on roads and at stations and airports on Tuesday after a bomb blast tore through a crowded metro station in the capital Minsk on Monday evening, killing at least 12 people.

The defense ministry said 204 people were in hospital, 26 of them in a serious condition, after the rush-hour blast at one of Minsk’s busiest underground rail junctions close to the presidential headquarters.

President Alexander Lukashenko, the autocratic leader who has led the ex-Soviet country since 1994, said the explosion was an attempt to destabilize the country.

Authorities did not say who might be behind the blast — a rare act of wanton violence in the tightly policed country.

The explosive device, which had been packed with metal ball bearings and had a strength equivalent to 5-7 kgs of TNT, was apparently left under a platform bench.

Interior Minister Anatoly Kuleshov, quoted by news agencies, said it had probably been detonated by remote control. About 300 people were on the spot when it exploded as a train came into the station, he said.

Lukashenko, at odds with the West over his authoritarian rule, linked the explosion to a previous unsolved blast in 2008, saying: “I do not rule out that this was a gift from abroad.”

Though the bombing resembled similar attacks in Russia, Belarus has no Islamic insurgency problem and no real history of political violence.

Belarus’s state security service put the death toll at 12 after the death of one injured person overnight. Wednesday was declared an official day of mourning.

The blast occurred as Belarus struggles with a damaging run on foreign currency which has prompted panic-buying.

Central Bank foreign currency reserves are at their lowest in two years and there is no new credit deal with the International Monetary Fund in sight.

“TIGHTENING OF SCREWS” FEARED

Lukashenko vowed on Monday to turn the country “inside-out” to find those responsible for the attack.

Lukashenko’s re-election for a fourth term in December led to street protests that were broken up by police.

Belarus shares borders with EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, and with Russia and Ukraine.

One opposition figure said he feared Lukashenko would use the blast to crack down even more harshly on political rivals.

“Regardless of who organized and ordered the blast, the government will be tempted to use it as an excuse to tighten the screws … I am afraid they will use it,” said Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the opposition United Civic Party.

Grigory Kostusev of the Belarussian People’s Front, who ran against Lukashenko last December, told Reuters he thought the roots of the attack probably lay in Russia.

“The Belarussian special forces are not earning their bread. Unfortunately, they are very active when it comes to dealing with political rivals but they can not deal with a real threat from bandits,” Kostusev added.

Monday’s blast took place at around 6 p.m. at the Oktyabrskaya metro station — Minsk’s busiest — about 100 metres (yards) from Lukashenko’s main headquarters.

On Tuesday there was a reduced service running on Minsk’s metro network and a heavy police presence at many stations.

People placed flowers and candles at the entry to Oktyabrskaya station in memory of the dead.

“I have a feeling of sadness and painful anger. This should not have happened to us. We are not the sort of country where this sort of thing happens,” said Valentin Lepen, aged 70.

“We are in shock. Nobody thought that anything like this could happen in Minsk, anywhere but here,” said Natalya, 28.

The European Union and the United States have imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko and his closest associates because of the December 19 crackdown. He has said the opposition rally was an attempted coup financed by the West.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitors said the vote count was flawed and criticized police for being heavy-handed. The remarks angered Minsk, which forced the OSCE to close down its office there.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth, editing by Gareth Jones)

NEWS UPDATE:

Blast at Belarus metro station kills several people
Reuters – People carry a victim of a blast on a stretcher in central Minsk, April 11, 2011. REUTERS/Anton Motolko

Explosion hits Belarus subway Slideshow:Explosion hits Belarus subway

 
By YURAS KARMANAU, Associated Press Yuras Karmanau, Associated Press : UPDATED:

MINSK, Belarus – Belarusian authorities said Tuesday they have suspects in a subway bombing as the death toll rose to 12, with more than 200 wounded. The opposition, meanwhile, voiced fears that the attack may lead to an increased crackdown on dissent.

Belarus’ domestic security agency, which still goes under its Soviet-era name KGB, said that had identified the likely perpetrator of Monday’s explosion at a busy downtown subway station and was searching for him. It didn’t elaborate. Interior Minister Anatoly Kuleshov said police had created composite pictures of two male suspects using testimony from witnesses. He said the bomb apparently was radio-controlled.

The Interior Ministry said the bomb placed under a bench on the Oktyabrskaya station exploded as people were coming off the trains at an evening peak hour.

The Oktyabrskaya station is within 100 meters (yards) of the presidential administration building and the Palace of the Republic, a concert hall often used for government ceremonies.

Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting with officials late Monday that foreign forces could be behind the explosion, but he didn’t elaborate.

Authorities said that 204 people have sought medical help and 157 of them have been hospitalized, including 22 in critical condition.

Viktor Sirenko, the chief doctor of the Minsk Emergency Hospital, said that many victims had lost arms or legs.

People streamed to the site of explosion to lay flowers as police tightened security at all subway stations.

“I went through that hell, I saw that pile of disfigured bodies,” 37-year old Nina Rusetskaya said as she lit a candle at the explosion site. “I rode a car in the back of the train and only survived by miracle.”

Lukashenko, in power for nearly 17 years and dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by the West, was declared the overwhelming winner of December’s presidential election which international observers said was rigged. He has run the former Soviet nation of 10 million with an iron fist, retaining Soviet-style controls over the economy and cracking down on opposition and independent media.

Lukashenko took his 6-year-old son to visit the site of the explosion about two hours after the blast. He later ordered the country’s feared security forces to “turn everything inside-out” to find the culprits.

Alexander Milinkevich, a prominent opposition leader, voiced fears that the explosion could serve as a pretext for a further crackdown on dissent.

“Forces both inside and outside the country, which are interested in the destabilization of the situation in Belarus, could profit from that terror attack,” Milinkevich said in a statement Tuesday. “These forces want to provoke even harsher political repressions.”

More than 700 people, including seven presidential candidates, were arrested after massive protests against fraud in December’s presidential vote.

The European Union and the United States have responded to the flawed vote with sanctions, leaving Lukashenko to rely exclusively on it main sponsor and ally Russia.

Lukashenko has often launched diatribes at the West, accusing it of trying to destabilize Belarus. But his relations with Russia also have often been strained in the past as he accused the Kremlin of trying to wrest control over Belarus’ key economic assets.

Belarus is facing a severe economic crisis with hard currency reserves running critically low and people waiting in day-long lines to exchange rubles as they prepare for devaluation of the national currency.

Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent political analyst, said that Lukashenko would likely use the attack to further tighten control in view of the economic upheavals. “Lukashenko will use it to strengthen his hand ahead of a looming economic catastrophe and social tensions,” he told the AP.

____

Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report from Moscow

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