Belarus arrests members of ethnic Polish group

Members of a banned Polish cultural group in Belarus say police have arrested up to 40 members of their organisation, the Union of Poles.

Activists were arrested as they were travelling to a court hearing in the north-western town of Volozhyn.

Last week police seized a building owned by the union. Poland condemned that move and recalled its ambassador.

About 400,000 ethnic Poles live in Belarus, which has been accused by human rights groups of repression.

Monday's court case concerned the building seized by the authorities on 9 February.

Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer said Warsaw was "deeply worried by the operations being pursued against the representatives of the Polish minority in Belarus," the AFP news agency reported.

Ethnic Poles form about 5% of the Belarusian population of 10 million.

The Union of Poles was banned five years ago. A breakaway faction, loyal to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, is recognised as the legal representative of the ethnic Poles.

Mr Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994. Western critics and human rights activists say he stifles dissent with authoritarian methods that hark back to Soviet times.


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