Belarus arrests metro bombing suspects

Authorities detain several people in connection with rush-hour blast on Minsk metro system which left 12 people dead.

    People streamed to Oktyabrskaya station to lay flowers as police tightened security at subway stations in Minsk [AFP]

    Belarus has arrested several people in connection with the metro bombing in Minsk that killed 12 people, state media quoted the deputy prosecutor as saying.

    "Information is being worked on from several people," Andrei Shved, the deputy prosecutor general who is in charge of the investigation, was quoted as saying by the Belta news agency on Tuesday.

    "People have been detained," Shved said; however, he did not give numbers or say if those detained are formal suspects.

    Shved added that photo-fit images of those wanted individuals still at large had been prepared and would be released to the public in a short time.

    Earlier on Tuesday, Anatoly Kuleshov, the interior minister, said police had created composite pictures of two male suspects using testimony from witnesses. He said the explosive apparently was radio-controlled.

    The bomb was placed under a bench on the Oktyabrskaya station and exploded as people were coming off the trains at an evening peak hour, killing 12 people and wounding more than 200.

    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," Nina Rusetskaya, a 37-year old Minsk resident, 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.

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

    'Foreign forces'

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

    Lukashenko took his six-year-old son to visit the site of the explosion about two hours after the blast. He later ordered the country's feared security agency, which still goes under its Soviet-era name KGB, 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 destabilisation 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 destabilise 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.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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