Belarus police question residents over bomb blast

By Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK, July 16 (Reuters) - Police were moving from house to house in the capital of Belarus on Wednesday questioning people about a bomb blast at a concert attended by President Alexander Lukashenko.

More than 50 people were wounded in the July 4 blast at an event in Minsk marking the former Soviet republic's national holiday. Lukashenko has vowed not to launch a crackdown but the opposition says several people have been detained since then.

"We cannot say at the moment that we will get to every resident of Minsk, but this is a very large operation," an Interior Ministry spokesman said of the police sweep.

"This is standard procedure to investigate a crime. Given the ramifications of what happened, the scale has to be big."

Leaders of the liberal and nationalist opposition say about a dozen of their activists have been detained since the blast, but officials have said nothing about any such roundup.

Some opposition officials say the detentions could compromise a September parliamentary election and have suggested they may boycott the poll.

Western leaders accuse the authorities in Belarus of violating fundamental rights, and Lukashenko hopes the election will show Belarus adheres to democratic principles.

Police moving through Minsk's tower blocks were asking residents about their whereabouts at the time of the explosion, where they performed their military service and whether they saw active combat duty.

"At the moment, we cannot say how long this will take to complete, but we will do everything to get the job done as quickly as possible," the spokesman said. "The ministry has put into action sufficient resources to fulfil the task before us."

Within days of the explosion, Lukashenko dismissed the head of the influential security council and his own chief of staff.

On Tuesday, he appointed Yuri Zhadobin, the head of the security service, still known by its Soviet-era KGB initials, as chairman of the security council.

He replaced Viktor Sheiman, previously considered one of the most influential officials in the country of 10 million wedged between Russia and three European Union states.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast. Two explosions which injured dozens of people in 2005 in the eastern town of Vitebsk have gone unsolved.

Lukashenko, barred from entering the United States and European Union, is generally popular at home for his tough stand on dissent and policies of lavish subsidies.

He has been trying improve ties with the EU, which says any such development depends on democratic change, particularly the successful staging of the September election. (Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Timothy Heritage)