Ethnic Polish activists detained in Belarus


Associated Press

Up to 30 members of a banned ethnic Polish group have been detained in authoritarian Belarus en route to a court hearing on the fate of a Polish cultural center _ just two days after most of them were seized under a similar pretext.

Poland is mulling sanctions over the detention of up to 40 Union of Poles members in the former Soviet state earlier this week. Warsaw accuses Belarus of repressing its sizeable Polish community.

Further arrests Wednesday, along with a court order banning the acitivies of the Polish House cultural center, are likely to galvanize Warsaw in its pursuit of sanctions _ and are fanning a wider diplomatic spat between the prickly neighbors.

Poland has threatened to pursue a European Union travel ban for those responsible for the arrests, whom it is yet to identify. Belarus' Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday blasting the threat as "exerting pressure on a sovereign state."

Both Monday's and Wednesday's arrests were made to stop Union of Poles activists from attending the court hearing in Volozhin, about 45 miles (75 kilometers) from the capital, Minsk.

An Associated Press photographer on Wednesday saw the former Soviet nation's security service stop cars belonging to Union of Poles activists in Volozhin. About 30 were taken to police stations, according to Andzelika Borys, their leader.

On Monday several of the activists received fines, and some got five-day sentences after being detained en route to Volozhin.

Since the Union of Poles was banned five years ago, its activists have been kept under surveillance in the authoritarian state.

At the time of the ban, the group splintered into an opposition faction and a faction loyal to President Alexander Lukashenko.

The Polish House cultural center is located in a neighboring town, Ivinyets. The Volozhin court ruled it should be vacated, according to Alexander Galiyev, a Union of Poles lawyer, with the judge ruling that the building can only be occupied by the Union's pro-Lukashenko faction.

Ethnic Poles make up about 5 percent of Belarus' population of 10 million and many are vociferous proponents of democratic reform.

Associated Press writers Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine, and David Nowak in Moscow contributed to this report.


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