Two held over bomb as dictator tightens his grip

Two more people have been arrested over the deadly subway bombing in Belarus as fears grew among opponents of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko that he is using it to strengthen his grip on power.

It brings to five the number of suspects arrested since Monday’s blast, which killed 12 and injured more than 200.

Three suspects were arrested earlier, including a man in his mid-20s accused of placing the bomb on the platform of Minsk’s busiest subway station.

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Announcing the new arrests, Deputy Prosecutor General Andrei Shved said all five suspects were Belarusian citizens under the age of 30 without previous convictions.

Lukashenko has already suggested that the blast was the work of dissidents and has ordered the prosecutor general to round them up for interrogation.

Shved confirmed the interrogations had begun and more would be conducted.

Opposition activists worry the internet, the last pillar of free speech in the tightly controlled nation, could suffer unprecedented restrictions in the wake of the blast.

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Prosecutor General Grigory Vasilevich said “it is necessary to bring order” to certain internet portals that covered the bombing.

State television has lambasted opposition web sites that suggested the blast was useful for the authorities, saying they harmed the country’s interests.

Alexander Starikevich, editor of the Solidarity opposition site, said he had received a warning from the prosecutor’s office for “discrediting” the nation.

“We fear our site will be closed, because the internet is the only alternative and independent source of information and the authorities are scared of this,” Starikevich said.

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Lukashenko, dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by the West, had already launched a widespread crackdown on opposition members after mass protests erupted over the December presidential election.

He was declared the overwhelming winner of that vote, which international observers strongly criticised.

Lukashenko has run the former Soviet nation with an iron fist for nearly 17 years.