Belarus opposition leader arrested

Other News Materials 18 February 2008 19:54 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The authoritarian regime in Belarus has arrested opposition leader Aleksander Milinkevich, Interfax news agency reported from the capital Minsk on Monday.

Milinkevich was arrested by Interior Ministry forces participating in an anti-government demonstration of small businessmen and traders.

He had been arrested several times in the past for his opposition to authoritarian President Alexsander Lukashenko, considered by some observers to be the last dictator in Europe.

The opposition leader received a freedom prize from the European Parliament in 2006.

Olga Kozulina, the wife of imprisoned Belarusian opposition leader Aleksander Kozulina, was also detained by law enforcers.

The arrests came during and shortly after Monday clashes between police and anti-government marchers near Oktiabr Square, in central Minsk.

It was the third unsanctioned march against the government this year, by small traders and businessmen objecting to a recent hike in taxes, ordered by Lukashenko to increase government revenue, and reduce means of obtaining personal income in Belarus by means not controlled by the government.

Kozulina had been standing in Oktiabr Square not participating in the march, and was arrested after demonstrators unfurled a banner reading "Freedom to IP (Small Businessmen)!" the Interfax news agency reported.

Police then closed ranks, and using shields and threats of violence forced the marchers numbering less than 1,000 into the nearby Yanki Kupali square.

During past demonstrations police had refrained from arresting march organizers, while the protest was in progress.

A crackdown appeared to be in progress throughout the Belarusian capital with opposition organizers including Viacheslav Sivchik and Aleksander Makaev grabbed on the street by police far from the demonstration, and taken to the station for questioning, the Belapan news agency reported.

Lukashenko has banned marches in Oktiabr Square, in part due to its proximity to government buildings including his own residence and offices.

More than 3,000 retail traders and stall operators marched in the Belarusian capital on January 10 to protest a hike in taxes.