Belarus opposition leader released to attend wife's funeral

Other News Materials 26 February 2008 12:55 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Prison officials in the authoritarian state Belarus allowed a leading opposition figure three days of freedom to attend his wife's funeral, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.

Aleksander Kozulin, leader of the repressed Belarusian Social- Democrat Party, is serving a 56-month penitentiary term for leading 2006 anti-government street protests.

The director of the Vitba-3 prison personally drove Kozulin home at 2 am, said opposition lawyer Igor Rynkevich.

Kozulin's wife Irina, 49, died Sunday of cancer. The last time the couple had seen each other had been months previously during a rare prison visit allowed to Mrs Kozulina.

Kozulin, the leader of the hard-line opposition to the Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, had threatened his jailors he would stop eating and drinking, and starve himself to death, were he not allowed to attend his wife's funeral.

More than 500 people gathered on Tuesday in front the Red Cathedral in the Belarusian capital Minsk to pray for the Kozulin family.

The gathering was to some extent a challenge to authorities, as the cathedral is located near Minsk's central Oktiabr Square, where authorities have banned anti-government protests and repeatedly used force to break them up.

Police did not interfere with the impromptu service aside from videotaping participants.

Among participants were Kozulina's two daughters and most leading Belarusian opposition figures including Aleksander Milinkevich.

Milinkevich had in the past differed with Kozulin over the tactics needed against the Lukashenko regime, with Milinkevich advocating peaceful protests and minimal violation of the law by opposition, and Kozulin taking a more confrontational approach.

Less than one hundred activists in the western city Vitebsk held an unsanctioned protest on Monday against delays on the part of the Lukashenko regime in permitting Kozulin's temporary release.

Police broke up the march in five minutes, arresting two people refusing to extinguish memorial candles, the Belapan news agency reported.

The pair face misdemeanour charges for building a fire in a public area and not responding to police instructions.