Belarus Fines Politician for Protest, Arrests 20
MINSK -- Authorities in Belarus slapped a big fine on a prominent politician
on Thursday and arrested 20 people at a peaceful protest against hardline
President Aleksander Lukashenko.
A court fined former opposition deputy Mecheslav Grib for organizing a
rally banned by Lukashenko which attracted 10,000 people five days ago.
"This is a political trial," Grib told reporters after receiving
the maximum fine of 20 million Belarussian rubles ($830), about 16 times
the average monthly wage.
Grib compared the decision with repression by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin
who used fake court trials to justify executions of his prominent opponents
in the 1930s.
"If a court makes decisions only on the basis of accusations, then
it is worse than 1937," he said.
Seven busloads of police sent to monitor a protest by about 50 students
later arrested about 20 of them in the latest of a series of detentions
at anti-Lukashenko demonstrations.
Lukashenko, facing a "political spring" from opponents of his
policy of forming a union with Russia, has ordered a clampdown on protests
and has banned nationalist symbols.
The crackdown was apparently expanded to include Westerners on Sunday when
the head of the local Soros Foundation, U.S. citizen Peter Bern, was barred
from the former Soviet republic of 10 million people for interfering in
State-run television showed him watching an opposition rally while he was
accused of taking part in protests.
The Soros Foundation, which invests mostly in education, ecological and
medical programs, denied accusations by the authorities that it had funded
U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Yalovitz visited the foundation's offices on Thursday
"to assure them of the embassy's support for the very important work
they do," a spokeswoman said.
Roman Yakovlevsky, a Belarussian member of the foundation's management
in Minsk, said investigators had checked documents at its office.
Authorities are also investigating other public organizations which attract
foreign money like one for child victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster
and a fund for organizing political conferences.
First Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov told a news conference that
Bern had "participated in the internal political life of Belarus,
including funding some of its participants."
Authorities have said the Soros Foundation gave money to an independent
privatization and management institute run by two opposition deputies,
Pavel Daneiko and Anatoly Lebedko.
The U.S. embassy has accused Belarus of failing to preserve democracy and
human rights and said it was telling investors to put money into neighboring
Lukashenko scrapped the old parliament in November after winning a referendum
which gave him vastly expanded powers. He replaced it with an assembly
more favorable to himself.
A strong advocate of reuniting with Moscow, he has broad support among
the people but faces vocal opposition from several groups, many of which
want to preserve their recently acquired independence from Russia. (Reuters)