Belarus Police Break Up Rally, Arrest Opposition Candidate
25 March 2006
Police in Belarus broke up a protest in the capital, Minsk, Saturday, after an earlier rally against the results of presidential elections. An opposition presidential candidate was taken into custody.
Clashes erupted in downtown Minsk, as squads of black-clad riot police sought to block opposition demonstrators who were marching toward a detention center, where protesters arrested Friday were being held.
Earlier, police holding large shields formed lines to force back crowds trying to reach the square where an opposition tent camp had been set up before police removed it early Friday morning, arresting hundreds.
Eventually, the protesters made their way to a city park, where they chanted anti-government slogans to denounce hard-line President Alexander Lukashenko. Police made no move against them there, and the mood was largely confident, in spite of government warnings that the rally was illegal.
Top opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich told the crowd that Belarus would soon be free from Lukashenko's rule. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.
The long-time president was declared the winner of Sunday's election, with 83 percent of the vote. Mr. Milinkevich was credited with six percent. Protesters say the results are false, and are demanding a new election, although there is little chance the authorities will agree to that demand.
However, Milinkevich told the protesters their rallies and the tent camp protest prove that Belarusians are no longer afraid to voice their opinions. He said, "If you had asked me a month ago if something like this would happen, I would have said, 'only someone crazy would think we could stay on the square for more than three days.'"
After the rally dispersed, some protesters followed a call by another top opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin, to march to the detention center, where protesters detained Friday are being held. Police detained Kozulin and an aide to Milinkevich.
On Friday, the United States and European Union announced that they will impose new sanctions against the Lukashenko government, because of apparent fraud in Sunday's election and the crackdown against the opposition.
Russia accuses Western powers of meddling in the internal affairs of Belarus, and has congratulated Mr. Lukashenko on his re-election.
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