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Europe

Deadly blast hits Minsk metro during rush hour

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-12

The explosion hits during rush hour on Monday at the city's busiest station, near President Alexander Lukashenko's main office and residence, as political tensions rise in the wake of his disputed re-election.

AFP - A blast tore through a packed metro station near Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's headquarters Monday killing at least 11 people and wounding 100 others, in a suspected act of terror.

The explosion left clouds of suffocating smoke inside the city's busiest metro station, as bloodied passengers ran for the exits, which lead to both the strongman president's main office and his residence.

Confirming the death toll of eleven, Lukashenko immediately called an emergency security session in which he placed the blame on unnamed political opponents claiming they were seeking to destabilise his regime.

"I warned you that they won't let us live a calm life," the maverick president told a meeting that included the head of the former Soviet republic's powerful security service.

Apparently promising tough new security measures, Lukashenko said: "Guys, we have been presented with a serious challenge. We need an adequate response -- and it must be found."

Lukashenko also ordered the head of the KGB to "immediately investigate and consider everything until the last detail. All those responsible must be found."

The blast came amid rising political tensions in the country following Lukashenko's controversial re-election last year and also a severe economic crisis that has seen the government carry out a partial currency devaluation.

The state news agency Belta said the blast tore through the last car of a train that had pulled into the station in the evening rush, with Lukashenko saying it had given people a "powerful psychological shock".

Video footage posted on the Internet from inside the Oktyabrskaya station showed dozens of people sitting stunned on the marble floor, their faces splattered with blood and their shoulders covered in pieces of white plaster.

One person had both his legs blown off by the explosion, a witness told AFP.

Deputy prosecutor Andrei Shved described the attack an an "act of terror" and said a criminal probe had been opened, Interfax reported.

"The external signs, the nature of the wounds people received, point towards an act of terror," a security source told Interfax.

Belarus is normally considered a safe country and has never been touched by large-scale militant attacks such as those carried out by Islamist militants in Moscow.

On March 29, 2010, 40 people were killed and dozens wounded by two female suicide bombers during the morning rush hour on the Moscow metro.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev immediately responded to the explosion, which he also called an terror act, offering Lukashenko the help of Russia's security service.

In power for one and a half decades, Lukashenko has prided himself on instituting law and order in Belarus, taking credit for stability that has come at the expense of a fierce crackdown on all forms of dissent.

The blast appeared to leave officials momentarily stunned, with some time passing before Belta reported that Lukashenko had been informed and had himself visited the site, laying flowers.

Stunned witnesses outside the station described scenes of mayhem, with shattering glass and thick smoke filling the halls as people returning home from work scrambled in panic.

"The glass started to shake and all the people suddenly fell silent -- it went silent in a flash. Everyone started telling each other to be quiet and not to panic," one woman said.

An AFP correspondent said the explosion paralysed underground traffic across the city of 1.8 million, resulting in traffic jams and grinding travel in the city centre to a halt.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated through central Minsk on election night last December after Lukashenko's overwhelming victory was announced, with truncheon-wielding police moving in against the protesters and arresting hundreds.

The arrests have added to the Lukashenko regime's growing international isolation, with both the European Union and the United States announcing travel bans and economic sanctions against some Belarussian state companies.

Date created : 2011-04-11

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