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Bomb Explosion In Belarus Injures 50

The injured are treated at the scene
Officials said a homemade bomb exploded at an outdoor concert in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, overnight, injuring at least 50 people, some seriously.

The blast happened after midnight, at a concert to celebrate the country’s Independence Day. Tens of thousands of people were out on one of the city's main squares, dancing and singing, at the time of the explosion. Amid all the noise and fireworks, many of them did not notice the blast.

The authorities did not stop the festivities, which continued unabated just a few meters away. Ambulances were called in to take the injured away.

Bomb Packed With Nuts, Bolts

Eyewitnesses said the bomb was packed with nuts and bolts, magnifying the extent of the injuries.

One man, who reached the scene a few minutes after the explosion, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service he saw one man who had lost his hand and one young woman who had her toes ripped off in the explosion.

The explosion left a crater some 20 centimeters deep, with blood spattered on the grass around it.

Minsk Police Chief Anatoly Kuleshov later spoke to reporters. He praised the authorities and hospital personnel for what he said was their quick response and avoidance of panic. "Some of the casualties are currently in city hospitals. Everyone has been given timely medical care. No one was killed. A criminal case has been opened and we are investigating," Kuleshov said.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was apparently at the concert when the bomb went off. He reached the scene within a few minutes, inspecting the site and urging the authorities to find the culprits quickly.

His spokesman, Pavel Legkiy, said speculation that the bomb might have been an assassination plot was unfounded. He said the device clearly targeted ordinary concertgoers.

Second Device

Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov said it was too early to tell whether the bombing was "terrorism" but he promised that answers would soon be found.

Naumov said a second, unexploded device was also found near the blast site, which he said would help police in their investigation. For now, police have described the incident as "hooliganism.

The Minsk bombing is the most serious attack of its kind since 2005, when a homemade explosive device injured some 40 people in the city of Vitebsk.

A little known, anti-Lukashenka group calling itself the "Belarusian National Liberation Army" later claimed responsibility but no one was convicted for the attack.

Eyewitness 04Jul2008

Bombing victim Lilia Melnik, 28, spoke to RFE/RL at a hospital in Minsk.

"We were sitting next to some pine trees. The fireworks went off and then some 30 minutes went by and it turns out they put this juice carton under the pine trees. And it exploded.

"My [mobile] phone flew out of my hands. I didn't expect it to be carried off so far. At first, I thought something was wrong with my phone. But no. I was carried to an ambulance and that was it. It turns out it was a bomb packed with nuts and bolts. [At the hospital] they took out metal nuts from my knees and from my legs."