Blast at Belarus metro station, 7 dead

(Reuters) – A blast hit a crowded metro station in the center of the Belarusian capital Minsk during the evening rush hour Monday and police said seven people had been killed and about 50 injured.

The state news agency BelTA said the blast occurred at 5.55 p.m. (11:55 a.m. ET) at the metro station Oktyabrskaya on a square of the same name about 100 meters (yards) from the administration building of President Alexander Lukashenko.

There was no official word as to whether the blast had been caused by a bomb or an accident.

Lukashenko visited the site of the blast and called an emergency meeting of key ministers for later in the evening. An official statement was expected after that.

If the explosion was an act of deliberate violence it would be extremely unusual for Belarus, a tightly policed ex-Soviet republic of 10 million people which shares borders with EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania and with Russia and Ukraine.

An Interior Ministry spokesman told reporters at the scene: “According to preliminary data, there are 7 dead and about 50 injured.”

Victims were carried out of the station and the injured were given on-the-spot medical treatment by ambulance workers and sent to hospital.

A Reuters correspondent saw at least one dead person lying on the ground, covered by sheeting, and a correspondent for Interfax news agency said he saw two dead bodies.

A 52-year-old man who gave his name as Igor said a train was coming into the station when the blast occurred on the platform.

“The doors (of the train) opened and then there was an explosion,” he said. “I saw people lying on the floor without moving. There was a lot of blood.”

Other witnesses quoted by news outlets spoke of a flash and a bang and debris falling from the ceiling of the metro station.

Political tension has been high in Belarus since an election on December 19 gave Lukashenko a fourth term in power, to the dismay of the opposition and the West which denounced the vote as fraudulent.

A police crackdown on an opposition rally against the December vote has led to sanctions by the West, including a travel ban on Lukashenko and his closest associates.