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Belarus bomb blast injures 50

About 50 people were injured when a bomb exploded at an outdoor concert attended by the Belarus PM.

Medics treat a man injured by an explosion in Minsk early on July 4, 2008.
Medics treat a man injured by an explosion in Minsk early on July 4, 2008.

MINSK // About 50 people were injured when a homemade bomb exploded in the Belarus capital at an outdoor Independence Day concert attended by the president Alexander Lukashenko, officials said. Mr Lukashenko, criticised by the west for ruling the ex-Soviet state with an iron grip since the mid-1990s, went to the scene of the explosion. "The president was not far. He 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," said presidential spokesman Pavel Legkiy.

"This was not an attempted assassination of the president," he said before adding that the bomb was aimed at those attending the concert, held in a large park. A police official said 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 injured 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, while thousands were attending the concert. A witness said the explosion left a pit 20cm deep. Another witness said 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." The west has accused Mr 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. Mr 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 homemade explosive device injured over 40 people in the northern city of Vitebsk. A little known, anti-Lukashenko group calling itself the "Belarusian National Liberation Army" later claimed responsibility but no one was convicted for the attack. *Reuters