Explosion in Belarus hurts 50

By Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK (Reuters) - About 50 people were wounded by a home-made bomb in Belarus's capital on Friday at an Independence Day concert attended by long-time ruler President Alexander Lukashenko, officials said.

Lukashenko, criticised by the West for ruling the ex-Soviet state with an iron grip since the mid-1990s, was not far from the blast but was unhurt and did not appear to be the target, his spokesman said.

Local media later quoted Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov as saying a second bomb had been found in the capital and that it had failed to go off.

Presidential spokesman Pavel Legkiy told Reuters Lukashenko "reached the site of the explosion within several minutes. He did not stay long so as not to interfere with the work of the emergency services".

"This was not an attempted assassination on the president," he said, adding that the bomb was aimed at those attending the concert, held in a large park.

"That is my personal opinion, not as a specialist, but as a person who was at the scene ... Of course there can be a number of explanations and the truth will be established in the course of the investigation."

A police official said earlier the likely motive for the bomb was "hooliganism" -- a term commonly used by officials in former Soviet states to play down the significance of an attack

Police initially said 40 people had been wounded but the Health Ministry later raised the figure to about 50.


The bomb went off in a big square in Minsk shortly after midnight local time (2100 GMT), while thousands were attending the concert. A Reuters witness said the explosion left a pit 20 cms (7.874 inches) deep with blood spattered on the grass around it.

Another eyewitness told Reuters that he saw nuts and bolts around the area of the explosion.

"I heard a loud explosion and there was black smoke," said 28-year-old Sergey, who did not give his second name.

"People started shouting. No one stopped the concert. They just isolated the place around the explosion and emergency vehicles began coming."

Police said the discovery of the second device could help their investigation.

"There are quite a lot of traces on it, which will help us to establish what happened more quickly," the state-run BelTA news agency quoted interior minister Naumov as saying.

The West has accused Lukashenko, a close Russian ally, of gagging independent media, quelling protests and incarcerating opponents. The European Union and the United States have banned him from entry, saying he rigged his re-election in 2006.

Lukashenko argues he has helped save Belarus from the political and economic chaos of other ex-Soviet states and remains broadly popular in the country of 10 million, wedged between Russia and Poland.

There have been no known assassination attempts against him.

In 2005, a home-made explosive device wounded more than 40 people in the northern city of Vitebsk.

A little known, anti-Lukashenko group calling itself the "Belarussian National Liberation Army" later claimed responsibility but no one was convicted for the attack.

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Stephen Weeks)