Blast kills at least 11 at subway station in Belarus capital
MOSCOW — An explosion believed to have been caused by a bomb ripped through a subway station next to the office of Belarus’ authoritarian president on Monday evening, killing at least 11 people, wounding more than 100, and worsening an already tense political situation there.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion 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’ limbs were torn off by the force of the blast, paramedics said.
The president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, indicated that he believed the explosion was terrorism. Prosecutors said an inquiry was focusing on a bomb.
Investigators and witnesses said the blast occurred on a platform just as passengers were leaving a train in the Oktyabrskaya station about 6 p.m., at the height of the evening rush. The station, in the center of Minsk, is very close to major government offices, including Lukashenko’s, as well as to his official residence.
While Muslim separatists from southern Russia have carried out suicide bombings in Moscow’s 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 Lukashenko, who has tightly controlled the country since 1994, has portrayed himself as a stabilizing force.
But Belarus has faced political turmoil since Lukashenko’s re-election in December, which was denounced by his rivals as rigged. When opposition parties conducted a major protest on election night, the security services responded with a far-reaching crackdown, sending the 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 postelection rally. Lukashenko has accused the opposition of plotting a coup with aid from Western governments — charges European and U.S. officials have called absurd.
The powerful security services, still called the KGB in Belarus, a vestige of the Soviet era, had been on heightened alert before the blast because of the political strains. Journalists and opposition figures were still being detained and interrogated, rights groups said.
The opposition to 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 Minsk park, wounding dozens of people during an Independence Day festival. 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.