U.S. Diplomat Is Briefly Held by Belarusian Police

From Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus - Police briefly detained a U.S. diplomat in Belarus, and activists said Wednesday that authorities wanted to prevent him from meeting them.

American diplomats expressed concern over the detention and were discussing the incident with Belarusian officials, U.S. Embassy spokesman Alexei Solomakh said. Officials in Belarus' Foreign and Interior ministries declined to comment.

A youth group leader said authorities also detained two democracy activists from Georgia, one of three former Soviet republics where former opposition figures have come to power in the last two years.

The U.S. has been a vocal critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose government fears opposition attempts to foment political change in this tightly controlled country. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called his regime "the last true dictatorship in the center of Europe."

U.S. Embassy political officer Lyle McMillan was held for about 40 minutes Tuesday, said Galina Skorokhod, an activist in the city of Gomel, where the diplomat was detained.

"It's obvious that the police's main goal was to break up [our] meeting, which they did," Skorokhod said.

In the last two months, Belarus has closed 80% of the local offices of three major parties, jailed activists and levied massive fines against the few remaining independent newspapers, acting State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.