EU calls for release of Belarus opposition leader

The European Union has demanded the release of a Belarussian opposition leader arrested during a demonstration against last week's election victory of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Alexander Kozulin, a presidential candidate, was arrested after an opposition rally on Saturday when police pulled him out of a car and detained him.

Mr Kozulin and Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition leader, have been leading days of rallies in Belarus against what they say was a rigged election which gave Mr Lukashenko an overwhelming victory with 82.6 per cent of the vote.

On Friday, police in riot gear arrested hundreds of demonstrators who had set up a tent camp in the main square of Minsk, capital of Belarus.

The EU responded to the election by imposing sanctions, including a visa ban, on several Belarus leaders. But today it condemned the actions of the police and called for the release of Mr Kozulin.

"The EU Presidency is appalled by the violence used against demonstrators by the Belarussian authorities," said a statement released by Austria, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

"It expresses serious concern about the arrest of demonstrators and members of the democratic opposition, including presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin, and demands their immediate release."

International observers said last week's election was neither free nor fair, and the Bush administration has called for a re-run of the poll.