Fri 23 Sep 2005 3:17 AM ET

Bomb blast wounds 40 outside Belarus cafe

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.

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 still in hospital.

The blast was being investigated but officials had ruled out terrorism, a spokesman for Belarussian prosecutors said. It was the second blast in the 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.