Belarus unleashes attack against opposition

Journal Staff Report

MINSK, March 2 - Belarusian police on Thursday unleashed their worst yet attack against opposition groups in the run-up to March 19 presidential election in which incumbent leader Alexander Lukashenka is seeking a third term.

An opposition candidate was beaten and detained, while about 60 his followers had been arrested by police throughout Minsk as the authorities moved to crush the group ahead of the vote.

Lukashenka alleges the opposition receives financial aid from the West to provoke an uprising after the election, similar to mass demonstrations in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past two years that helped drive longtime leaders out of power.

Vladyslav Kaskiv, the leader of Pora, a Ukrainian youth group that had played a key role in the Ukrainian uprising in November 2004, was detained by Belarusian security agents Thursday upon his arrival to Minsk.

Kaskiv, who led a group of 10 Ukrainian activists, said he had planned to monitor the situation in Belarus ahead of the vote.

"We are outraged with the actions of the Belarusian authorities," Markian Lubkivskiy, a member of Pora, told Ukrainian News agency. "We, through the Foreign Ministry, will demand an explanation from the Belarusian party."

Lukashenka, who addressed a conference in Minsk on Thursday, said the opposition leaders are "mercenary opponents of our society and our people," The Associated Press reported.

The opposition "will be dismantled in a tough way after the elections," he said in a four-hour address to the conference, which was frequently interrupted by lengthy applause from delegates.

Aleksander Kozulin, the opposition candidate who was beaten and detained, said he tried to attend the conference because "I wanted to tell the truth about the dictatorship we live in," AP reported.

Police fired warning shots, then beat and rounded up about 20 Kozulin supporters who gathered at the police station to demand his release. Kozulin's lawyer, Igor Rynkevich, who demanded access to his client, was also detained.

A Reuters television cameraman, Dmitry Modorsky, was beaten and hospitalized. Plainclothes security officers, armed with pistols, also shot into the tire of a car in which a TV cameraman was reportedly trying to escape, to force it to stop.

Belarusian Prosecutor's office spokesman Andrei Shved said Kozulin was given medical assistance. Shved said Kozulin was charged with "hooliganism," and would likely be released pending trial after authorities complete all formalities. (ap/jp/ez)