Opposition Leader in Belarus Faces Criminal Charge


MOSCOW, March 26 - A detained opposition leader in Belarus faced a criminal charge today and was denied prison visits by a doctor and a lawyer, his wife said. Minsk, the capital, fell quiet following a violent police crackdown against antigovernment demonstrators on Saturday.

Aleksandr V. Kazulin, who had challenged the authoritarian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, in an election earlier this month, was seized on Saturday when riot police with batons attacked a column of peaceful protesters who were marching to a prison where opposition members have been jailed.

He was being held today at a detention center well outside of Minsk, on a charge of hooliganism, his wife, Irina Kazulin, said. The charge can carry penalties ranging from a fine to several years in prison.

Ms. Kazulin said she visited the jail but was not allowed to see her husband or speak with him by phone. She said she demanded that he be examined by a doctor and allowed to consult with a lawyer, but was told by a prison official that there would be no visits before Monday.

"Human rights do not work on Sunday on Belarus," she said bitterly, in a telephone interview. She said she was not sure whether her husband had been injured.

Opposition members said that at least three people were in serious medical condition with either skull fractures or spinal injuries after being beaten by the police when the march was broken up.

One man with skull injury had been hovering near death, but had survived thus far, said Aleksei Shein, a spokesman for Aleksandr Milinkevich, the principal challenger to Mr. Lukashenko.

"Thank God this man is still alive," Mr. Shein said of the injured demonstrator, who was one of at least two men seen lying immobile on the street after lines of officers from SOBR, a special rapid-reaction force that has been widely accused of extensive human rights abuses, attacked the marchers.

The march was the third opposition event of the day. Police forcibly blocked demonstrators from reaching a rally planned for October Square, punching and kicking many of them as they tried to push through police lines or block traffic, and ultimately clearing the sidewalks with advancing formations that pummeled people in their path.

A peaceful rally then assembled at Yanka Kupala park, which the police videotaped but did not break up. At Mr. Kazulin's urging, several hundred of those demonstrators left for a march to the prison, during which the worst violence of the day occurred.

Austria, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said in a statement today that the union "is appalled by the violence used against demonstrators" and called for the release of Mr. Kazulin and the other protesters.

Such statements by the West, made throughout the week, have had little visible effect on the Belarussian government, which retains many of the features of the Soviet police state that Mr. Lukashenko apparently admires.

Mr. Lukashenko, whose landslide reelection on March 19 has been declared invalid by the West because of wide-scale rigging and abuses of state power, has resorted to police sweeps, mass arrests and violence to try quell the unrest. Russia, his closest ally, has offered him unequivocal support.

For the first time during Mr. Lukashenko's 12 years of rule, however, demonstrators have defied the police and vowed to carry out more peaceful actions in the face of arrests, state violence and expulsions from universities or jobs. Another rally is planned for April 26.

The authorities have not released arrest figures or provided information about the injured, making it difficult to know the extent of the arrests or the conditions or even the identities of some of the detained.

Among those thought to be held are a small number of journalists from Russia, Canada and Western Europe, as well as foreign demonstrators, including Ukrainians, Poles and at least one man from Ireland, who was interviewed at a small protest camp on Friday shortly before riot police smashed the camp and arrested the demonstrators there.