Authorities seize thousands of copies of independent Belarusian newspaper

MINSK, Belarus (AP) - Authorities confiscated thousands of copies of one of Belarus' largest independent newspapers, the paper's publisher said Monday, amid a mounting campaign by officials to pressure the opposition ahead of the presidential election later this month.

Iosif Seredich, publisher of the Narodnaya Volya newspaper, told The Associated Press that two trucks carrying 250,000 copies were seized in a border town overnight Sunday.

He said the paper, whose print run is normally around 30,000, had printed a special edition with photographs showing last week's beating of opposition candidate Alexander Kozulin, as well as activists and journalists, by security agents.

Authorities accused the paper, which is printed in Russia to avoid being shut down by Belarusian officials, of pre-election campaigning.

President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the isolated ex-Soviet republic with an iron fist since 1994, quashing dissent and opposition and maintaining his grip on power through votes dismissed as illegitimate by his critics. The United States has dubbed him "Europe's last dictator."

"Lukashenko's circle is finding all the more absurd reasons for direct censorship," Seredich said.

Also Monday, the main opposition candidate challenging Lukashenko said his interview broadcast on national radio had been censored. Alexander Milinkevich told AP that he had warned authorities were putting the nation under "total propaganda" and that Lukashenko was "destroying all competitors."

Neither of those statements were broadcast during the 30-minute interview, he said.

Officials with Milinkevich's political organization say more than 200 workers have been arrested during the campaign, and more than 60 other opposition activists had also been detained.

Lukashenko is widely expected to win another term in the March 19 vote.