Belarus candidate may face prison time over protests

Moscow - Jailed Belarus presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin has been notified that he could face six years in prison, even as arrests in demonstrations since last week's elections have reached at least 1,000, lawyers and human rights activists said Tuesday.

"This is the first time we've seen such mass arrests in Belarus. I can remember nothing of this kind in the past," Ales Byalyatsky, head of a human rights organization, said as activists launched a hunger strike to protest crowded conditions in one suburban detention facility.

Kozulin, former rector of Belarus State University and one of two opposition candidates who challenged President Alexander Luka shenko in Sunday's balloting, is being investigated under a newly passed law that imposes heavy penalties for serious violations of public order, said his lawyer, Igor Rynkevich.

He is also being investigated for threatening the president in connection with a statement he made during Saturday's post-election protest rally, which ended in a violent police crackdown and hundreds of arrests, including his own.

In that speech, Rynkevich said, Kozulin declared that if law enforcement authorities used weapons against demonstrators, "Let Lukashenko leave the last bullet for himself."

In addition to the new investigation, the opposition candidate also faces possible charges of hooliganism in connection with his unsuccessful attempt to enter a public meeting hall during the campaign and tear a portrait of Lukashenko from the wall.