Belarus' opposition attempts to regroup

Depleted by a wave of arrests, Belarus' opposition movement is seeking ways to regroup after week-long protests were broken up by a state apparatus determined to defend President Alexander Lukashenko.

Authorities at a detention center outside Minsk finally confirmed that they had in detention Alexander Kozulin, an opposition candidate in the March 19 presidential election, who was arrested on Saturday when security forces violently broke up a protest march, Kozulin's wife Irina said.

About 100 youths attended a vigil on Sunday evening to honor the marchers beaten by police, lighting candles at a monument to 53 young people who were crushed to death in a May 1999 stampede at a Minsk metro station.

Lukashenko "won't last five years," said Liliya, a 21-year-old teacher, referring to the length of a presidential term. "He's only got a little while left -- he's very afraid."

The arrest of Kozulin as he and others tried to visit a jail holding fellow opposition supporters came amid a wave of detentions of those who have tried to protest against Lukashenko's re-election to a third term in office.

The main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, attempted to visit Kozulin on Sunday but when he rang at the entrance to the detention center in the town of Zhodino he was turned away by a metallic voice telling him to come back yesterday.

"I came to check if Kozulin is here. I want to bring him my moral support," he told journalists.

Milinkevich promised to launch an information campaign that would counter the authorities' claims that the opposition had resorted to violence.

A stepson of Milinkevich is among up to 250 opposition supporters said by human-rights groups to be held in Zhodino in connection with Saturday's clash with police and with the days-long protest on Minsk's October Square. Most of those who camped out on the square were handed sentences of up to two weeks for hooliganism.

"The country doesn't know what happened due to the propaganda of the state media," Milinkevich said.

Among others being held was the leader of the United Civic Party, Anatoly Lebedko. The head of the Belarussian Popular Front, Vintsuk Vyachorka, is reportedly in hiding.

Despite the blow dealt to the opposition, Vyachorka's deputy, Viktor Ivashkevich, said progress had been made on forming a new united opposition movement called For Freedom.

"Many are now in prison but were convicted for 10 to 15 days and will come out and continue work," Ivashkevich said.