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Belarus jails hundreds of activists
At least 600 people held in Minsk as police crack down on opposition protesters in the wake of a presidential election.
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2010 13:43 GMT

 

Relatives have crowded outside a Minsk jail to get information about activists detained over the protests [AFP]

Authorities in Belarus have jailed at least 600 opposition activists following a police crackdown on protesters after Alexander Lukashenko won a fourth term as president.

The interior ministry said on Tuesday that the activists, including at least five presidential candidates, were jailed for between five and 15 days, on charges of provoking violence during Sunday's election.

Human rights groups have told Al Jazeera that of the 600 people jailed, only 376 were taken to court to face charges.

Among the protesters arrested was Irina Khalip, an activist and wife of Alexei Sannikov, an opposition candidate.

 

Her arrest took place as she was giving a live interview to a local radio station, allowing her to describe rough handling by authorities.

"A police car is stopping us now. They're ordering us to pull up to the curb ... They're pulling me out!

"I'm standing like in an American action film. They pressed me up against the car. My husband is lying on the ground. They're hitting me in the face. They're tying my hands back."

Opposition leaders have condemned the government crackdown, calling for a protest to be held in front of the prison in Minsk, the capital, where activists are being held for later on Tuesday.

"Today we'd like to announce the start of an action in solidarity with all those who have been detained by the authorities," Alexei Yanukevich, head of the opposition Belarus National Front (BNF), said.

Western condemnation

Lukashenko, who won 80 per cent of the vote according to the state electoral commission, vowed on Monday to thwart any attempt of "revolution" by opposition candidates.

Russian election observers invited by the Belarusian leader said the election was legitimate, but Western observers said the poll was flawed.

Monitors of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also criticised the police crackdown on some 10,000 protesters who marched in Minsk on Sunday night against alleged vote rigging.

The United States has also called on Belarus to release all presidential candidates detained in the wake of the election.

"We call for the immediate release of all presidential candidates and the hundreds of protesters who were detained on December 19 and 20," Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman, said.

"The United States cannot accept as legitimate the results of the presidential election announced
by the Belarusian Central Election Commission December 20."

But Lukashenko is quite popular throughout the the country, where people long for "stability, security and a predictable leadership from someone that they know and trust," Neave Barker, Al Jazeera's reporter in Minsk, said.

During Lukashenko's rule Belarus's economy has been propped up by energy subsidies from chief ally Russia. The country serves as a buffer between Russia and NATO and a transit route for Russian gas heading to Europe.

But relations with Moscow have been on the rocks in recent years, and Lukashenko, a mustachioed former state farm director, has been courting the West.

Lukashenko crushed dissent harshly in the early years of his rule, jailing opponents and muzzling the media. He was dubbed Europe's "last dictator" by the Bush administration.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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