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Belarus bomb explosion wounds more than 50

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MINSK, Belarus — A homemade bomb tore through a crowd that included the country's authoritarian president early Friday, wounding more than 50 people at an all-night holiday concert, health officials said.

The blast was unusual in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, where President Alexander Lukashenko harshly suppresses dissent and public violence is rare. Officials blamed unspecified "hooligans" for the bombing.

Lukashenko was not wounded in the blast, and it was unclear if the attack was an assassination attempt. There were no reported claims of responsibility.

The blast hit about 12:30 a.m. at the soaring Hero City memorial, a World War II monument in central Minsk, where thousands had gathered for the Independence Day concert.

Police later found an unexploded homemade bomb in the area, also packed with hardware, Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov said.

"It was an action by hooligans," said Minsk police department spokesman Alexander Lastovsky.

Dmitry Kudyakov, a 32-year old engineer at the concert, said he felt a strong shock wave and saw smoke.

"People started crying," he said. "Some fell on me and there was a lot of blood."

Lastovsky said more than 20 people were hospitalized, but the Health Ministry put that number at more than 50.

Viktor Sirenko, chief doctor of the city's Emergency Hospital, said three people were in grave condition. "We are struggling to save their lives," he said.

Most of those wounded were people in their 20s, but two children aged 5 and 6, and several elderly people, also were among the victims.

Viktor Gurko, chief doctor of the city Hospital No. 6, displayed nuts and bolts that doctors recovered from the victims' bodies.

In 2005, two bombs went off in the city of Vitebsk, wounding about 50 people; one was at a bus stop and the other at an outdoor cafe.

Lukashenko has provoked Western condemnation and sanctions for his crackdown on dissent. Most U.S. Embassy employees have left Belarus in recent months amid rising tensions.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, is an open admirer of the Soviet Union.

The Independence Day holiday commemorates the day in 1944 when the Soviet army drove Nazi forces out of Minsk. Prior to Lukashenko's taking power, Belarus had celebrated Independence Day on July 27 to mark its 1990 declaration of sovereignty from the Soviet Union.