At least 600 opposition activists have been jailed by authorities in Belarus after a police crackdown on protesters, who were against Alexander Lukashenko’s fourth victory in the presidential election. (map, from aljazeera.net)
The activists are jailed for between five and 15 days, on charges of provoking violence during Sunday’s election, said the interior ministry on Tuesday. He also said that five presidential candidates were among the people arrested.
According to human rights groups only 376 people of the 600 jailed were taken to court to face charges.
While giving a live interview to a local radio station, Irina Khalip, an activist and wife of Alexei Sannikov, an opposition candidate was arrested. Therefore she described the rough handling by authorities.
“A police car is stopping us now. They’re ordering us to pull up to the curb … They’re pulling me out!
“I’m standing like in an American action film. They pressed me up against the car. My husband is lying on the ground. They’re hitting me in the face. They’re tying my hands back.”
The government crackdown has been condemned by opposition leaders. On Tuesday they asked for a protest to be held in front of the prison in the country’s capital, Minsk, where activists are being held.
“Today we’d like to announce the start of an action in solidarity with all those who have been detained by the authorities,” Alexei Yanukevich, head of the opposition Belarus National Front (BNF), said.
The state electoral commission said that Lukashenko won 80 per cent of the vote. On Monday he vowed to thwart any attempt of “revolution” by opposition candidates.
The Belarusian had invited Russian election observers who said the election was legitimate, whereas Western observers said the poll was flawed.
Sunday’s police crackdown on some 10,000 protesters who marched in Minsk at night against alleged vote rigging was also criticised by Monitors of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The United States has called on Belarus to release all presidential candidates detained in the wake of the election.
“We call for the immediate release of all presidential candidates and the hundreds of protesters who were detained on December 19 and 20,” Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman, said.
“The United States cannot accept as legitimate the results of the presidential election announced
by the Belarusian Central Election Commission December 20.”
Belarus represents a buffer between Russia and NATO and a transit route for Russian gas heading to Europe. And under Lukashenko’s rule the country’s economy has been propped up by energy subsidies from chief ally Russia.
However in recent years relations with Moscow have been on the rocks and Lukashenko has been courting the West.
In the early years of his rule, Lukashenko crushed dissent harshly, jailed opponents and muzzled the media, which lead the Bush administration to call him Europe’s “last dictator”.