Activists Go on Hunger Strike in Belarus


Associated Press Writer

MINSK, Belarus (AP) - Some 20 detained opposition supporters have gone on hunger strike to protest conditions at a Belarusian jail holding 400 opposition supporters, rights advocates said Tuesday, as authorities continued to crackdown on dissent following the disputed March 19 election.

Dozens of youth activists again flouted prohibitions on unauthorized demonstrations, rallying outside a Minsk jail where detained protesters were being held.

Meanwhile, authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose re-election to a third term was widely derided as fraudulent and sparked a week of unprecedented protests, commended police for ``efficiently'' maintaining the stability of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

``Peace and order have returned the country just as it was,'' he said in televised comments.

Rights supporters said nearly 1,000 activists have already been sentenced or are behind bars awaiting sentencing for taking part in protests or supporting the opposition following the election. So many were picked up in Minsk that some were being sent to jails outside the capital.

A court also sentenced several journalists to jail on charges of hooliganism or participating in demonstrations, said press freedom groups. They said the convicted journalists included citizens of Belarus, Poland, Russia and Georgia.

Rights advocates alleged prisoners were being held in crowded conditions, and were denied water and the right to receive care packages. Up to 18 inmates were squeezed into cells designed to accommodate five, they said.

The election, which officials say Lukashenko won with 83 percent of the vote, set off days of demonstrations that drew thousands of people to Minsk's central square. The protests there ended when police staged a a pre-dawn raid Friday, breaking up an opposition tent camp.

Opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich, who officially received 6.1 percent of the vote, called the election a fraud. The United States and the European Union said the vote was deeply undemocratic and have vowed sanctions against Lukashenko and other officials.

An 18-year-old student who was detained in the Minsk tent camp last week said detainees were subjected to psychological abuse. ``We were told we would be taken into the forest and shot, and that girls would be raped beforehand,'' Polina Denisova testified in court.

Pro-Lukashenko youth activists, meanwhile, again staged rallies outside the American and Polish embassies in what apparently were government-sanctioned demonstrations.