Violence as Belarus police arrest opposition candidate


3 March 2006

MINSK - A fistfight broke out between Belarusian police and opposition supporters yesterday, as the country's authoritarian government continued pre-election crackdowns.

Police touched off the fracas by arresting a minor candidate opposing authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko in elections later this month.

The heavily-armed law enforcers detained Aleksander Kozulin, the nominee from the social-democratic party Gramada, on charges of violating newly enacted laws limiting rights of public gathering.

The arrest took place in the capital Minsk as Kozulin was attempting to register to participate in the All-Belarus People's Conference - a state-run conference technically for political discussions, but actually for Lukashenko supporters.

Kozulin's attempt to enter the Palace of Railway Workers, where the conference was taking place, was blocked by police. When Kozulin argued he should be permitted inside as he was a duly registered presidential candidate and the conference was discussing the upcoming election, police attempted to arrest him. Kozulin's supporters resisted the detention and a fistfight ensued. Police used clubs, fists and boots to prevail in the conflict. They arrested Kozulin, and 10 others including Kozulin supporters and journalists on the scene.