Belarus authorities on Tuesday made their first arrests after a deadly metro bomb attack that killed at least twelve people, as President Alexander Lukashenko took personal control of the investigation and promised tough new security measures.
AFP - Belarus on Tuesday made the first arrests over the Minsk metro bombing that killed 12 commuters, the worst attack in its modern history which the authorities called a plot to destabilise the country.
The explosion at a busy metro station in the heart of the Belarussian capital near the headquarters of autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko stunned a city which has never seen attacks like those suffered in Russia.
Several people have been arrested in connection with the investigation, deputy prosecutor Andrei Shved announced but he did not say if they were suspects, state news agency Belta reported.
"Several people have been arrested and they are currently being questioned," the spokesman for prosecutors, Pyotr Kiselev told AFP.
The country's security service, still known by its Soviet acronym KGB, said in a statement that 12 people had been killed, nine of whom were identified. A total of 149 people needed treatment, it said.
But the authorities otherwise appeared at a loss to explain the motive for the "act of terror", with Lukashenko saying that he could not rule out a foreign hand in the attacks.
"Guys, we have been presented with a serious challenge. We need an adequate response – and it must be found," the strongman leader, once dubbed Europe's last dictator by the United States, told a KGB meeting.
"I do not rule out that this is a present from outside but we must look at home too," he said. "Go and establish who could benefit from breaking the calm in the country," he told the KGB.
The blast came amid rising political tensions in the country following Lukashenko's controversial re-election on December 19, which sparked a massive opposition protest and a brutal crackdown on government critics.
Belarus, an ex-Soviet state between the EU and Russia, is also enduring severe economic crisis that has seen the government carry out a partial currency devaluation to preserve rapidly dwindling foreign currency reserves.
Belarus saw bomb blasts in 2005 in its western city of Vitebsk and in 2008 in Minsk. Both explosions, blamed on the nationalist fringe, wounded around 50 people but did not cause fatalities.
Lukashenko said the metro bombing and the July 2008 blast – at concert which he attended – could be "links in one chain".
An explosive device packed with ball bearings and with a force equivalent to five to seven kilograms of TNT, was apparently hidden under a bench on the platform of the metro station, Interior Minister Anatoly Kuleshov said.
It was likely set off by remote control, a security source told the Interfax news agency. It also quoted an anonymous "expert" saying it appeared the bomb was made of gunpowder and may have been homemade.
Lukashenko's opponents, already reeling from the post-election crackdown, meanwhile raised fears the authorities could use the bombing as a pretext for new repression.
"These forces (behind the blast) want to provoke an even tougher political repression and destroy our country's chance for European integration and weaken its independence," said top opposition figure Alexander Milinkevich.
Lukashenko visited the scene of the blast with his young extra-marital son Kolya, a boy who has become a talisman for the president and now accompanies him to almost all state events.
"We have been attacked, Crudely, cruelly and inhumanely," said the mass-circulation daily Belarus Sevodnya. "We Belarussians thought we could not have enemies. We were wrong," it added.
The interior minister said that all means of transport arriving and leaving the country were being searched and that security had been heightened at crowded places including rail stations and airports.
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 and 37 were killed in an attack on the Russian capital's main airport this year.
Date created : 2011-04-12