Belarus police impound issue of opposition newspaper

Minsk - Belarusian police citing a possible threat to national security on Friday impounded the entire print run of a leading opposition newspaper.

More than 200,000 copies of the Communist Party publication Tovarishch (Comrade) were confiscated by law enforcers at Minsk printing plants.

The issue contained articles possibly violating laws prohibiting 'incitement to the destablisation of society ... and calling for participation in unsanctioned demonstrations,' according to a report on the state-run Bel-1 television channel.

Belarus' authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has repeatedly used the clauses to shut down media critical of him.

The country's opposition is plannning mass anti-government demonstrations on Sunday, after a national Presidential vote that Lukashenko is widely expected to win using Soviet-style tactics.

The nationally-distributed Tovarishch issue reportedly contained information on time and location of the protests.

The confiscation marked the biggest state assault yet on independent Belarusian media in the tense count-down to the Sunday vote.

Both Lukashenko and his opponents are predicting violence after polls close, when police are expected to use force to break up mass demonstrations.

Colonel Yury Podobed, commander of the Minsk police special forces, said his men were in full readiness to put down opposition demonstrations.

'The opposition can express their democratic principles lying face down on the pavement,' a pro-Lukashenko newspaper quoted Podobed as saying.

The Minsk police would prevent 'illegal' demonstrations 'without mass arrests,' he said.

Opposition leader Aleksander Milinkevich called on Lukashenko's government to refrain from violence against peaceful demonstrators.

'This will be a completely peaceful march, and if force is used against people the responsibility for the attack will be the government's,' Milinkevich said in a Friday statement.

Lukashenko took a hard-line stance later in the day, promising the full use of force if the demonstrations took place.

'Some scum want to stir up the water in Minsk,' Lukashenko said. 'We will show them what it is to be stirred up.'

'If they (the opposition) cross the line (of legality), we will take the most cruel measures,' he warned.

Western governments have threatened Lukashenko's regime with isolation in case of a fixed election, but on Friday Lukashenko dismissed the threat.

'They have been trying to frighten us for nine years, and we're still here,' Lukashenko said.

2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur