Bombing at Minsk Concert Injures 50

BelTAVictims of an explosion that injured over 50 at an outdoor concert receiving first aid treatment in Minsk on Friday.
LINIYA STALINA, Belarus-- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said there would be no general clampdown on his opponents on Saturday after a bomb explosion wounded about 50 people at a concert he attended the day before. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, the authorities have played it down, and Lukashenko, who was nearby but unhurt, said he did not see it as an assassination attempt.

He also said the United States had offered technical help in investigating the explosion. Washington has criticized his government for human rights abuses and has been involved in a diplomatic spat with Minsk in recent months.

There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials.

On Friday, as dozens of people were being treated mainly for leg injuries from nuts and bolts in the homemade bomb, the opposition asked the authorities not to start a "crusade" against them ahead of a parliamentary poll in September.

"Why should we tighten the screw? What has happened that we should tighten the screw?" Lukashenko said in answer to a journalist's question about the opposition plea.

"We will turn the screw on those responsible for this," he said after visiting the open air Liniya Stalina war museum about 40 kilometers west of Minsk.

Officials on Friday said the blast was an act of hooliganism. There have been no known attempts on the long-term ruler's life.

Lukashenko is banned from entry by the United States and the European Union, both of which accuse him of rigging his 2006 re-election, gagging the media, jailing opponents and stopping protests.

Relations with Washington have been strained since March, when the U.S. ambassador left Belarus and embassy staff were drastically cut at the behest of Minsk over sanctions placed on Belarussian state oil products firm, Belneftekhim.

But Lukashenko said the United States had offered to help investigate the blast, and Russian specialists had already arrived.

"I am grateful to the Americans for their offer. I gave an order to the special services to accept this help, if it is needed," he said. "In any case, Belarussian special services are ready to collaborate."

Some EU states have said a fair election in September could transform relations with Minsk, though the continued imprisonment of an academic who ran against Lukashenko in the 2006 poll remains the key stumbling block to better ties.