EU 'appalled' by Belarus crackdown

By Lucia Kubosova

The EU has condemned the latest round of violence against demonstrators in Belarus and demanded the "immediate release" of arrested opposition figures.

Presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin was arrested on Saturday (25 March) as he led a march towards the police station where other protesters were held following elections on 19 March.

Another 50 to 100 people were snatched by police on Saturday with men and women beaten with batons in the streets and three people feared to be in a serious medical condition, Polish media report.

Mr Kazulin's wife told reporters he was deported to a detention centre in the town of Zhodino, just outside Minsk.

Here he faces charges of "hooliganism" and if convicted "could get anything from a fine to seven years in jail," reports UK daily the Guardian.

Both the EU and US have demanded his release, with the Austrian EU presidency saying that it was "appalled" by the recent events.

Vienna urged "the international partners of the EU, and in particular Belarus' other neighbours, to follow the same approach towards Belarus."

But the Belarusian foreign ministry asked the EU and US to stop interfering in the country's politics, saying they are "trying to engage in wishful thinking on issues related to the internal political situation in Belarus."

Week of protests

Saturday's demonstration was held in memory of the anniversary of the declaration of Belarusian independence in 1918.

The march was originally supposed to be held in October Square, the site of earlier protests, but police used megaphones to tell protesters it was closed, according to the BBC.

The demonstrations are directed against last week's presidential elections - deemed seriously flawed by the OSCE - in which president Alexander Lukashenko won 82.6 percent of the votes.

The first crackdown on protesters came early on Friday as police broke up a tent encampment in October Square and arrested 200 people.

Both the US and EU reacted with sanctions against Belarus, including a travel ban on president Lukashenko.