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Belarus sentences two to death for metro bombing


A court in Belarus sentenced two men to death today for carrying out a bomb attack at a metro station in central Minsk which killed 15 people and wounded scores of others.

Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov, both 25, were arrested three days after the explosion on a packed platform during the evening rush-hour on April 11.

The prosecution said the two men, friends since childhood, had dabbled with explosives for years and were behind explosions in 2005 in their home town of Vitebsk and a separate bomb attack at Independence Day celebrations in Minsk, the capital, in 2008.

Rights activists had urged authorities in the former Soviet republic not to impose the death sentence.

Belarus is the only country in Europe to have retained the use of capital punishment.

Describing the accused as "an extreme danger to society", judge Alexander Fedortsov said: "The court sentences (them) to the extreme measure of punishment, death by execution."

Authorities say they do not see any political undercurrents to the bomb attack which was unprecedented in a country which has no internal terrorism problem or ethnic conflict.

But it coincided with unusual tension following a police crackdown on the opposition and a growing currency crisis.

President Alexander Lukashenko, the autocratic leader who has ruled Belarus since 1994, used it at the time to warn of attempts to destabilise the country of 9.5 million people.

Kovalyov's mother, Lyubov, who has led a campaign to save the two accused, said before sentence was passed that any confessions had been made under duress in pre-trial interrogation.

"The accusations are based on statements made by my son and Dmitry which were given under physical and moral pressure in the preliminary investigation. My son denied these statements in court. No other evidence of guilt was offered," she said in an emotionally-worded statement.

"While they try to persuade people that my son and his friend should be shot, the real criminals are going free," she said.

The two accused, held in a metal cage surrounded by police guards, showed no emotion when sentence was delivered. There were boos, sarcastic laughter and a cry of "not true" from the public seating area when the judge read out the sentence.

Since they were tried by the Supreme Court, the accused have no right of appeal and their only hope of surviving is a pardon from Lukashenko. In the past 16 years, he has pardoned only one person condemned to death.

Rights organisations say execution is carried out by shooting with a pistol. Relatives are told only after sentence has been carried out and those executed are buried in a secret location.

The court was held in a hall used by actors for rehearsals, with the accused on a stage together with the judge, lawyers and other court officials, lending a theatrical impression to proceedings.

Konovalov was billed in court as the dominant figure in the partnership and was said to have carried out the crime. Kovalyov was accused of complicity by supplying explosives and failing to tell police when he knew a criminal act was being prepared.