23 Sep 2005 14:49:11 GMT

Bomb blast wounds 40 outside Belarus cafe

Source: Reuters

(adds comments by Lukashenko)

MINSK, Sept 23 (Reuters) - A bomb blast, thought to be the work of a criminal gang, wounded 40 people outside a cafe in a town northeast of the Belarussian capital Minsk, officials said on Friday.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, accused in the West of systematically curbing human rights during 12 years in office, vowed additional measures to ensure the security of his 10 million citizens.

The bomb, packed with pieces of metal, went off on Thursday evening in the town of Vitebsk, near the border with Russia, a police spokesman said. A spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry said 36 people were taken to hospital.

Officials ruled out any link to terrorism. But Lukashenko said tougher security measures were needed.

"No one will be needing bread or housing if every day we have explosions going off in our streets," the president told a congress of a youth organisation.

"This administration will take the toughest possible measures to uphold the safety of our citizens."

Lukashenko is accused of cracking down on opponents, hounding independent media and rigging elections. He is expected to run for a new term next year after constitutional changes, approved by referendum, enabled him to prolong his mandate.

Belarussian prosecutors opened an investigation into the blast, the second in this provincial town.

Post-Soviet states have seen a sharp rise in activity by criminal gangs, and disputes over property and influence can often turn violent, with shootouts and bombings relatively common occurrences in major towns.


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