Belarus places KGB agents in reform leader's flat

A Belarussian presidential candidate who was released from prison this weekend remains under house arrest, where KGB agents deny him access to the telephone or the news, his wife said Sunday.

Vladimir Neklyayev, 64, was among five presidential candidates charged with instigating riots on December 19, when tens of thousands of people protested Alexander Lukashenko being declared winner of the election that had been denounced as undemocratic by international observers.

A popular poet who leads the Tell the Truth civic organisation, Neklyayev was sent home Saturday along with the award-winning journalist Irina Khalip -- the wife of another imprisoned opposition candidate.

The unexpected releases came just two days before the European Union considers a fresh round of travel and other sanctions against the former Soviet republic's leaders.

Neklyayev's wife Olga told AFP that two KGB security officers had been placed in the opposition leader's Minsk apartment to monitor his movements and prevent him from making contact with anyone but herself and his attorney.

"He is prohibited from reading the news, talking on the phone or using the Internet," she said by telephone, adding that security service agents had taken over one of the two rooms of their tiny flat.

Khalip's mother Lyutsina reported similar conditions for the Minsk bureau chief of Russia's opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

"Her apartment will always have two KGB agents and she is not allowed to go outside," Lyutsina said.

Besides her lawyer, Khalip was only allowed to see her three-year-old son Danik, who became the subject of a brief custody battle with the authorities while the journalist remained locked behind bars.

"It is like being in jail, only at home," Khalip's mother said.

Khalip is married to Andrei Sannikov, who has remained in a KGB prison since the protests.

In power for 16 years, Lukashenko was sworn in for a fourth term in office on January 21 during a ceremony that was boycotted by the European Union and the United States.

Washington and Brussels have used unusually strong language to condemn the post-election crackdown, with the European Union preparing to new sanctions against Belarus on Monday.

A former collective farm boss who famously voted against the Soviet Union's disbandment, Lukashenko has remained defiant since election day and accused neighbouring Poland and Germany of plotting to unseat him from power.

But while continuing to talk tough in public, Lukashenko appears to be making small moves aimed at reconciling his relations with Europe and avoiding all-out isolation.

His country's security services have released most of the nearly 700 demonstrators they detained on election day, with another candidate -- Vitaly Rymashevsky -- freed from prison on January 3.

Seven people were released in all on Saturday, including Neklyayev's election campaign assistant Sergei Voznyak.

Voznyak told AFP that he remained under investigation but was allowed to walk the streets of Minsk.

"I am very glad to be free because the conditions they keep you in (during pre-trail detention) are quite simply infernal," Vozbyak said.

"I am surprised that more people do not confess (to crimes they did not commit) simply to get tranferred to the regular prison."


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