- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2011

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — An explosion tore through a key subway station in the Belarus capital of Minsk during evening rush hour Monday, and the official state news agency said at least seven people were killed and 35 wounded.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw heavily wounded people being carried out of the Oktyabrskaya subway station, including one person with missing legs.

Several witnesses told the Associated Press that the explosion hit just as passengers were stepping off a train about 6 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT). The Oktyabrskaya station, where Minsk’s two subway lines intersect, was crowded with transferring passengers at the end of the workday.

The station is within 300 feet of the residence of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and the Palace of the Republic, a concert hall often used for government ceremonies.

There was no immediate indication of whether the blast was an accident or a terrorist attack.

The state news agency Belta said preliminary figures showed seven dead and 35 injured. It did not cite a source for the figures. An official from the presidential administration, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that there were some deaths.

One witness, Alexei Kiklevich, said at least part of the station’s ceiling collapsed after the explosion.

Igor Tumash, 52, said he was getting off a train when “there was a large flash, an explosion and heavy smoke. I fell on my knees and crawled … bodies were piled on each other.”

He said he saw a man with a severed leg and rushed to help him.

“But then I saw he was dead,” Mr. Tumash said, starting to cry.

Political tensions have been rising in Belarus since December, when a massive demonstration against a disputed presidential election sparked a harsh crackdown by police in which more than 700 people were arrested, including seven presidential candidates.

Mr. Lukashenko, who was declared the overwhelming winner of the disputed Dec. 19 election, has run Belarus, a former Soviet republic, with an iron fist since 1994. However, Belarus‘ beleaguered opposition has been largely peaceful for years, with only a few clashes with police.

In July 2008, a bomb blast at a concert attended by Mr. Lukashenko injured about 50 people in Minsk. No arrests in the case were reported.

Associated Press writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

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