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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK

World: Europe

Belarus in mourning after stampede

President Lukashenka lays flowers at the site of the stampede

Belarus has declared two days of mourning after at least 54 people were killed and more than 100 injured when a crowd stampeded into an underground train station.

Most of the victims were teenage girls who had been attending an open-air rock festival in the capital Minsk.

[ image: The scene of the stampede in which 54 died]
The scene of the stampede in which 54 died
The disaster happened when at least 1,000 people rushed into the Nyamiha metro station in the city centre to shelter from a heavy rainstorm.

Many of the girls were wearing high-heel shoes, and some slipped on the wet floor and were trampled underfoot.

Two police officers also died trying to control the crowd.

Andrew Harding in Moscow: Some were drunk, some slipped on high heels
Officials said 78 people were still in hospital, 37 of them in critical condition.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka described the incident as "a horrible tragedy".

The president, who visited the scene to pay his respects, said the government had established a commission to investigate the accident.

Mr Lukashenka insisted the police had not been to blame for the disaster. He also played down reports that many of the teenagers were drunk.


Officials said 100 million roubles ($400) would be given to each of the families of the dead and 30 million roubles to those of the injured.

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

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

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.

As news of the tragedy spread, anxious patients besieged the two hospitals in Minsk where medical staff were treating casualties.

The BBC's Moscow Correspondent, Andrew Harding, says this sort of incident is rare in the former Soviet Union, where crowd control by the police is often ruthless.

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