Belarus leader attacks security chief over bomb

MINSK, July 7 (Reuters) - President Alexander Lukashenko called for the resignation of the head of Belarus's Security Council for failing to prevent the detonation of a home-made bomb at a concert that he attended to mark Independence Day.

No one has claimed responsibility for Friday's blast, the authorities in the ex-Soviet state have played it down and Lukashenko, who was nearby but unhurt, said he did not see it as an assassination attempt. An inquiry has been launched.

"I don't think that you should remain in your position after this incident," Lukashenko told security chief Viktor Sheyman, according to state news agency BelTA, adding:

"You are the first to be guilty."

Officials have said the bomb, which was packed with nuts and bolts and wounded 54 people, was an act of hooliganism -- a common Soviet-era phrase used to play down such incidents.

The president threatened to sack members of the security forces investigating the explosion if progress was not made in determining who was responsible for the attack.

"We cannot have a repeat of Vitebsk. If this happens, others will be working in your positions," he was quoted by BelTA as saying on Monday.

In 2005, a home-made bomb wounded more than 40 in the northern town of Vitebsk, and although a little known anti-Lukashenko party claimed responsibility, no one was convicted of the attack.

The agency said several of those wounded by the bomb explosion were standing close to Lukashenko at the concert when the bomb went off showing that the long-time ruler was closer to the device than had been originally thought.

BelTA cited police sources as saying that three of the injured "stood in the same section (of the audience) with the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko".

It cited "experts" as saying that the injured were "not far from the head of state and the radius of casualties from the explosive device spread to the section they were in".

Lukashenko has said the United States had offered technical help in investigating the explosion. Washington has criticised his government for human rights abuses and been involved in a diplomatic spat with Minsk in recent months.

On Friday, as dozens of people were being treated mainly for leg injuries from the nuts and bolts, the opposition asked the authorities not to start a "crusade" against them ahead of a parliamentary poll in September.

Lukashenko is banned from the United States and the European Union, both of which accuse him of rigging his 2006 re-election, gagging the media, jailing opponents and stopping protests.

Some EU states have said a fair election in September could transform relations with Minsk, though the continued imprisonment of an academic who ran against Lukashenko in the 2006 poll remains the key stumbling bloc to better ties. (Writing by Sabina Zawadzki; editing by Keith Weir)