Blast Hits Subway Station in Belarus

MOSCOW — An explosion believed caused by a bomb ripped through a subway station next to the office of Belarus’s authoritarian president on Monday evening, killing at least 11 people, wounding more than 100 and worsening the already tense political situation there.

¶ No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast in Minsk, the Belarus capital, but witnesses described being hit by a wave of shrapnel that they said was contained in a bomb. Several victims had limbs torn off by the force of the explosion, paramedics said.

¶ The president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, indicated in comments late Monday night that he believed that the explosion was terrorism. Prosecutors said their inquiry was focusing on a bomb.

¶ Investigators and witnesses said the explosion occurred on a platform, just as passengers were leaving a train in the Oktyabrskaya station at the height of rush hour, about 6 p.m. The station is located in the center of Minsk, very close to major government offices, including Mr. Lukashenko’s, as well as his official residence.

¶ While Muslim separatists from southern Russia have carried out deadly suicide bombings in the Moscow subway system, including one last year, they have never done so in Minsk. Belarus, a former Soviet republic with a population of 10 million, does not have a Muslim insurgency, and Mr. Lukashenko, who has tightly controlled the country since 1994, has portrayed himself as a stabilizing force.

¶ But Belarus has faced political turmoil since Mr. Lukashenko’s reelection in December, which was denounced by his rivals as rigged. When opposition parties conducted a large protest on election night, the security services responded with a far-reaching crackdown, sending riot police to break it up violently and arresting hundreds of people.

¶ Several presidential candidates were detained for weeks.

¶ Dozens of opposition activists, including at least one presidential candidate, are still in custody and have been threatened with up to 15 years in prison for organizing the post-election rally. Mr. Lukashenko has accused the opposition of plotting a coup with aid from Western governments — charges European and American officials have called absurd.

¶ The powerful security services, still called the K.G.B. in Belarus, a vestige of the Soviet era, had been on heightened alert before the explosion because of the political strains. Independent journalists and opposition figures had continued to be detained and interrogated, rights groups say.

¶ The opposition to Mr. Lukashenko was largely peaceful before and after the election, but there have been unexplained bombings in recent years. In 2008, a bomb exploded in a park in Minsk, wounding dozens of people during a festival to celebrate independence day. The authorities never determined a motive.

¶ In the city of Vitebsk, near the northeastern Russian border, two blasts in 2005 left about four dozen wounded.

¶ On Monday night, Mr. Lukashenko visited the subway station and then convened a meeting of top advisers. Mr. Lukashenko made clear that he believed that the explosion was caused by a bomb, referring to the attackers as “ugly monsters.”

¶ “I don’t exclude the possibility that this present was brought from the outside,” he said sarcastically, in remarks broadcast on state television. “But we also should look at ourselves.”

¶ He then spoke directly to the leaders of the security services. “I want to tell you guys that this is a very serious challenge, and an adequate response is necessary,” he said. “I warned you that they would not give us a peaceful life. Who are they? I want you to answer this question without delay.”

¶ Opposition politicians said they feared that Mr. Lukashenko would use the explosion to justify a new crackdown.

¶ Anatoly V. Lebedko, who was arrested after the election protest in December and only just released, said in a telephone interview that after previous bombings, the security services rounded up opposition figures, though there was no evidence of their involvement.

“Because of this unfortunate explosion, human rights could possibly be limited,” Mr. Lebedko said. “At the very least, it will lead to further restrictions on the opposition and civil society. This can be expected.”

Witnesses reported that just after the explosion, smoke poured from the station’s exits as bodies were carried out on stretchers.

Aleksandr Vasiliyev, a local journalist on the scene, said by telephone from Minsk that witnesses told him that the explosion was caused by a bomb that had been packed with nuts, bolts and other shrapnel. The authorities would not immediately confirm such information.

The explosion occurred inside the station itself, not in a subway car, the witnesses told Mr. Vasiliyev.

Mr. Vasiliyev said that shortly after the blast, blood had pooled on the sidewalk outside the station where victims had been evacuated.

“Two dead bodies were brought out,” he said.

Anton Motolko, a photojournalist who lives near the station, ran to the scene after reading about the explosion on Twitter.

“I see blood, about 10 people, men and women, because at this time, it’s peak,” Mr. Motolko said in a telephone interview. “It’s the two biggest lines of our subway.”

Police cordoned off subway entrances. Crowds gathered around the main entrance, he said, as passengers emerged bloody and crying.

One of Russia’s main television stations, Channel One, broadcast interviews with witnesses who were in the station.

“We saw a bright light and everything started to shake,” one man said. “People were lying all over.” Another man said, “We were suffocating — there was so much smoke. We could barely see anything.”

A woman recalled that, “The glass crackled and everyone just fell. And then there was a deathly silence.”

Pavel Slobodyan said by telephone from Minsk that he arrived at the station about five minutes after the explosion. He said he saw about 20 people with wounds that seemed to be caused by shrapnel.

“Many people had wounds in their legs — not very large ones, but very many,” he said. One person, he said, was missing a hand.


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