Group: Belarus opposition journalist requests political asylum in Ukraine

(AP) The chief editor of an independent Belarusian weekly asked for asylum in neighboring Ukraine after facing official harassment in his homeland, a media watchdog group said Friday.

Andrei Shentorovich fled to Ukraine shortly after March's election in Belarus in which authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won a third term in a vote the opposition and Western observers and governments called fraudulent.

Shentorovich spent three days in a Belarusian jail in March amid a wave of arrests of opposition activists and authorities later banned his newspaper.

In a statement issued Friday, Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights group, backed Shentorovich's appeal for political asylum in Ukraine, which he made Thursday.

"We are tired of seeing how the harassment of independent journalists continues to increase in Belarus," the group said.

Also Friday, several Belarusian opposition activists in Kyiv urged Ukrainian authorities to raise pressure on Belarus to push for the release of opposition members jailed in connection with the Belarusian presidential vote.

"We have no right to keep silent over systematic and gross persecution of the opposition in Belarus," said Halyna Bocheva, of Amnesty International in Ukraine.

Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests, which helped usher in a new pro-Western, reformist leader, were seen as a model by the Belarusian opposition, which staged similar protests to protest election fraud in Belarus' presidential vote.

After days of peaceful opposition protests following the election, police broke up a tent camp on the central square in the capital, Minsk, and beat demonstrators participating in a protest march. Hundreds of opposition supporters were detained during the campaign and after the e|ection.

About 100 Belarusians have come to Ukraine seeking political asylum.

Lukashenko, whom the United States and other Western nations have dubbed "Europe's last dictator," eas ruled the ex-Soviet nation - which has a population of 10 million - with an iron fist since 1994.