Published Monday, August 29, 2005

Two Georgian Activists Sentenced to Jail


Associated Press Writer

MINSK, Belarus

A court sentenced two Georgian pro-democracy activists to 15 days in custody Monday, and security authorities accused a former U.S. diplomat of conspiring against the government.

The moves came as authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko said his opponents and foreign forces were plotting to unseat him by fomenting change similar to the protests that have helped bring opposition leaders to power in other ex-Soviet republics.

Security officials had said Friday that they would deport two Georgian activists accused of teaching their local counterparts to stage anti-government protests similar to demonstrations that brought down Georgia's longtime leader two years ago.

But a district court in the capital, Minsk, said it had sentenced Georgy Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze to 15 days in custody after finding them guilty of "minor hooliganism." The court refused to say what the Georgians, detained Wednesday, were accused of doing.

A Belarusian opposition activist, Dmitry Bondarenko, claimed that the Georgians were beaten and that the sentences were imposed to keep them in custody until their wounds heal. He said authorities often take similar measures against Belarusian opposition protesters.

Lukashenko, who has been in power for a decade and plans for plans to run for a new term next year, has warned opponents and the West against attempts to bring the kind of change that swept through Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in the past to years to his country.

Amid badly strained ties with the United States, Belarus' KGB accused a former U.S. Embassy attache of violating Belarusian and international law, claiming he brought printed materials into the country for the opposition.

The U.S. Embassy said it would not comment on "baseless and false accusations."

The United States has called Belarus a dictatorship.