Lukashenko threatens crackdown after Minsk bombing

MINSK, April 13, 2011 (AFP) - President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday announced three suspects had confessed to the Minsk metro bombing that killed 12 as he threatened a new wave of repression against the Belarus opposition.

In strongly worded comments on state television, the Belarussian strongman said that the worst attack in the country's history that also wounded 200 had been "solved" but admitted its motive remained unclear.

"The crime was solved at 5:00 am. KGB officers and police took one day to complete a superb operation and detain the perpetrators without noise and chatter," he said. The security service is still called the KGB in Belarus.

"Today at 5:00 am, they confessed." The KGB later made clear that three suspects have been arrested so far.

"The main thing is that we know who carried out the act of terror and how. We don't know why yet. But we will know that too," said Lukashenko. "We should not relax, there should be cleansing along all fronts."

AFP - Relatives of Galina Pikulik, a victim of the Minsk metro bombing that killed 12 and wounded 200 on April 11, mourn during the funeral ceremony in Minsk on April 13, 2011.

KGB chief Vadim Zaitsev said the suspected bomber, a young man, had been detained along with two accomplices and suggested that the attack may have been the work of a mentally imbalanced person with a grudge.

In televised remarks, he called the chief suspect a "sick person" who may have carried out the bombing "in order to satisfy his personal ambitions."

Lukashenko took aim at the opposition who contested his landslide election victory on December 19 and then suffered jailing and beatings, implying that anti-government critics may be connected to the blast.

"I order a review of all statements made by politicians. We are looking for perpetrators and masterminds. These characters from the so-called 'fifth column' may lay their cards on the table and show who is the mastermind."

Using characteristic language, the strongman told the security service: "Detain and question. Don't pay attention to any kind of democracy and the wails and groans of the pathetic Westerners."

The blast came amid rising political tensions in the country following Lukashenko's controversial re-election, which sparked a massive opposition protest followed by the arrest of hundreds of people.

Opposition figures immediately expressed alarm at his comments.

"The authorities can use the Minsk act of terror to extend their witch hunt, their massive violation of human rights, just like in 2008," said former defence lawyer and current member of the Belarus Helsinki Committee Garry Pogonyailo.

"The pressure on the opposition will get stronger now," said Ales Mikhalevich, who stood against Lukashenko in the polls and was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic after fleeing his homeland in March.

The president said those detained had also confessed to links to the only previous attacks in Belarus, bomb blasts in 2005 in its western city of Vitebsk and in 2008 in Minsk.

Both explosions, blamed on the barely visible Belarussian nationalist fringe, wounded around 50 people but did not cause fatalities.

KGB chief Zaitsev said a "direct link" had been established between the attacks and that the bomb used a "unique" explosive, which was also used in the 2008 bombing.

Once described by Washington as running Europe's "last dictatorship", Lukashenko has been bitterly condemned by the West for the election crackdown.

The attack also coincided with an intensifying economic crisis in Belarus, which has seen the authorities carry out a partial devaluation of the currency to prop up dwindling reserves.

Prosecutor General Grigory Vasilevich meanwhile warned Belarussian media, some of whom have criticised authorities over the attack, that legal measures could be taken against them.

"The danse macabre of some writers, the insulting nature of their publications, the speculations and insinuations, are not acceptable," he said in televised remarks.

The authorities declared Wednesday a day of mourning in Minsk, with state flags flying with black bands at half mast and all entertainment events in the capital cancelled until the end of the week.

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