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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK

World: Europe

Belarus stampede kills 54

Scores were crushed or trampled underfoot

At least 54 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in an underground train station stampede in the Belarus capital Minsk.

Most of the victims were young girls. Many had been crushed or suffocated.

Paul Anderson in Moscow: The authorities say the death toll could rise
The disaster happened when large crowds of people leaving an outdoor rock concert rushed into the Nyamiha metro station in the city centre to escape a thunderstorm.

Interior Minister Yuri Sivakov said several women wearing high heels slid on the slippery cement floor and were trampled underfoot.

He said 42 of the dead were teenage girls. Two police officers also died trying to control the rush.

Around 2,500 people had been attending the concert on Sunday.

The BBC's Andrew Harding: There was a stampede and dozens of people were killed
"The weather worsened sharply ... and the crowd, some of whom were under the influence of alcohol, rushed to find cover," said Mr Sivakov.

People outside did not know what had happened inside the tunnel and kept pushing forward to get out of the rain.

One survivor told Russia's NTV television: "People kept arriving until there was almost no space and then the whole mess began. There was no escape.

"Those that had fallen, the others just let them lie and ran over them," said the man, whose hand was bandaged.

Ruthless crowd control

The Interfax news agency reported more than 100 people were being treated at two hospitals in Minsk.

[ image: The stampede happened in this tunnel]
The stampede happened in this tunnel
The Health Ministry had originally insisted only 17 had died. In announcing the higher death toll, Mr Sivakov did not explain why the earlier estimates were low or how so many had died.

President Alexander Lukashenko said the government had established a commission to investigate the tragedy.

BBC Moscow Correspondent Andrew Harding says this sort of incident is rare in the former Soviet Union where crowd control is often ruthless.

Although relatively poor, Belarus is considered politically stable and is perhaps best known for its authoritarian president.

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