Web posted at: 8/27/2005 2:2:47

Belarus police detain Polish activists

Source ::: Reuters

Belarus riot policeman arresting a member of opposition movement Zubr (Bison) in Minsk during protest, yesterday.

MINSK: Belarussian police detained two ethnic Polish activists yesterday before a meeting intended to entrench rival leaders at the helm of a Polish association who would not oppose President Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko accuses the West of exploiting the 400,000-strong Polish minority to foment upheaval in his country of 10 million in the style of ex-Soviet Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

And the row over who is to lead the Polish community has brought back into focus Western accusations that Lukashenko denies basic human rights in Belarus by cracking down on opponents, silencing the media and rigging elections.

Belarussian police last month stormed the offices of the Union of Poles, removed the group's executive elected earlier this year and reinstated the previous, more compliant team.

Belarus' small, disunited opposition says the rumpus amounts to an attempt by Lukashenko to secure control over one of Belarus's best organised non-government organisations.

The Union is to hold a congress today in the west of the country to confirm the election of the restored executive.

Anzelika Borys, head of the Union's ousted executive, said two members, Andrzej Pochobut and Ivan Roman, had been detained.

"We naturally have no intention of taking part in this congress organised by the authorities. But the authorities are doing everything too to keep us away," Borys said.

"I have been summoned to a hearing tomorrow in connection with what appears to be some sort of financial irregularities." Relations with Poland have been plunged into crisis.

Poland withdrew its ambassador from Belarus after the police action. Belarus denied entry to a group of parliamentarians from Poland and each country has thrown out diplomats from the other.

Polish public television's regional third programme said one of its reporters had been denied entry to Belarus on Thursday.

Six members of the Union's ousted leadership have served brief prison terms for taking part in an illegal demonstration.

Borys predicted today's congress would amount to a "huge farce. No one is going to be elected. They will be appointed."

The head of the union's restored executive, Tadeusz Kruchkowski, said he hoped for an end to polemics. "I believe we should have absolutely new people involved," he said. "That's why I am not running for the leadership."

In a separate announcement, authorities said they were deporting two activists of Georgia's "Kmara" group on grounds of interfering in Belarus's internal affairs.