Sunday, March 25, 2007

Belarussian oppostion

This from a combination of reports from the BBC and International Herald Tribune

Belarus - Opposition protesters in Belarus clashed with police today in the capital Minsk. Some 15,000 people rallied against President Alexander Lukashenko.

No injuries were reported in the clashes. But opposition said that at least 40 activists were detained, and 34 more were jailed in the run-up to the rally.

Scuffles began as protesters tried to push through police cordons.

Protesters said the were marking the anniversary of the creation in 1918 of a short-lived Belarussian republic.

While the rally went on, the EU made a fresh appeal for democratic reform in Belarus.

President Lukashenko has been accused by the opposition and foreign election monitors of persecuting his opponents and rigging elections.

Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich said :"We should understand that we are not alone - the democratic world and Europe stand together with us."

Demonstrators chanted "long live Belarus" and waved the red and white flags of the 1918 republic, banned by the government which uses the Soviet-era national flag.

Milinkevich took 6% of the vote to 80.3% for Lukashenko in the presidential election last March. The election was was heavily criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for failing to meet democratic standards.

After last years election and subsequent protest. Police clubbed and arrested hundreds. Among them was unsuccessful presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin, who received a five and half year prison sentence.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, said the EU was ready to form a full partnership with Belarus and increase aid to the former Soviet republic if Lukashenko adopted democratic reforms.


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