11 killed in Minsk blast, 100 injured

* YURAS KARMANAU,Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus (AP) - An explosion tore through a key subway station in the Belarusian capital of Minsk during evening rush hour Monday. President Alexander Lukashenko said 11 people were killed and about 100 injured.

There was no immediate determination of what caused the explosion, but the RIA Novosti news agency cited Lukashenko as saying he did not discount the possibility that it was organized "from outside." The authoritarian leader, under strong pressure from the West over his suppression of the opposition, has frequently alleged outside forces seek to destabilize his regime.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw heavily wounded people being carried out of the Oktyabrskaya subway station, including one person with missing legs.

Several witnesses told The Associated Press that the explosion hit just as passengers were stepping off a train about 6 p.m. (1500 GMT). The Oktyabrskaya station, where Minsk's two subway lines intersect, was crowded with passengers at the end of the work day.

The station is within 100 meters (yards) of the president's residence and the Palace of the Republic, a concert hall often used for government ceremonies.

Lukashenko visited the site about two hours after the blast and left without comment. He was later quoted as saying the death toll was 11 and that about 100 people had been given medical attention. How many of the injuries were life-threatening or crippling could not immediately be determined.

One witness, Alexei Kiklevich, said at least part of the station's ceiling collapsed after the explosion.

Igor Tumash, 52, said he was getting off a train when "there was a large flash, an explosion and heavy smoke. I fell on my knees and crawled ... bodies were piled on each other."

He said he saw a man with a severed leg and rushed to help him. "But then I saw he was dead," Tumash said.

Political tensions have been rising in Belarus since December, when a massive demonstration against a disputed presidential election sparked a harsh crackdown by police in which more than 700 people were arrested, including seven presidential candidates.

Lukashenko, who was declared the overwhelming winner of the disputed Dec. 19 election, has run Belarus, a former Soviet republic, with an iron fist since 1994. However, Belarus' beleaguered opposition has been largely peaceful for years, with only a few clashes with police.

In July 2008, a bomb blast at a concert attended by Lukashenko injured about 50 people in Minsk. No arrests in the case were reported.

___ Associated Press Writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.


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