Heads Roll in Belarus Over Weekend Blast

MINSK -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko sacked his chief of staff and the head of the Security Council Tuesday, his office said, after last week's blast at an open-air concert that he attended.

Lukashenko had said he did not consider the blast, which injured over 50 people but did not harm him, as an assassination attempt. But on Monday he strongly criticized Security Council chief Viktor Sheyman for failing to prevent the incident.

"I don't think that you should remain in your position after this incident," Lukashenko told Sheyman, according to state news agency BelTA.

"You are the first to be guilty," he added.

Lukashenko's office said he had signed the papers for the dismissal of Sheyman and Gennady Nevyglas, his chief of staff.

Officials have said the bomb, which was packed with nuts and bolts and wounded 54 people, was an act of hooliganism -- a common Soviet-era phrase used to play down such incidents.

No one has claimed responsibility for Friday's blast.

On Monday, Lukashenko threatened to sack members of the security forces investigating the explosion if progress was not made in determining who was responsible for the attack.

"We cannot have a repeat of Vitebsk. If this happens, others will be working in your positions," he was quoted by BelTA as saying.

In 2005, a homemade bomb wounded more than 40 in the northern town of Vitebsk, and although a little known anti-Lukashenko party claimed responsibility, no one was convicted of the attack.

The agency said several of those wounded by the bomb explosion were standing close to Lukashenko at the concert when the bomb went off, showing that the longtime ruler was closer to the device than had been originally thought.

BelTA cited police sources as saying three of the injured "stood in the same section [of the audience]" as Lukashenko.

It cited "experts" as saying the injured were "not far from the head of state, and the radius of casualties from the explosive device spread to the section they were in."

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

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

Lukashenko is banned from 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.

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 bloc to better ties.