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Belarus opposition figure finds safe haven in Czech Republic

A Belarusian opposition leader has been granted asylum in the Czech Republic after escaping his native country following a brutal crackdown on anti-government figures.

Ales Mikhalevich

Mikhalevich was among several opposition leaders arrested

The Czech Republic has granted asylum to a high-profile Belarusian opposition leader after he fleed his country following months of imprisonment.

Ales Mikhalevich was one of a clutch of leading opposition figures arrested by authorities in Belarus in the wake of anti-government protests late last year.

Demonstrators had been marching in protest against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, which they, along with many Western governments, claimed was fraudulent.

Czech Interior Ministry spokesman Pavel Novak confirmed that Mikhalevich's asylum status would be "handed over" Thursday.

Brutal treatment claims

Mikhalevich was released from pre-trial detention earlier this year after almost three months in prison, during which time he said he was beaten, stripped naked and hung by his hands.

He escaped Belarus without a passport, leaving behind a wife and two daughters, according to the Czech news agency CTK. Belarusian police have since declared him a fugitive.

Incumbent Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

Lukashenko has been in power since 1994

The 35-year-old wrote on his blog that he was now "beyond reach of the Belarusian KGB," which was still holding dozens of high-profile opposition figures in jail.

Prosecutions continue

More than 40 people were charged with offenses related to rioting following the pro-democracy protests in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in December, including five former presidential candidates.

Seven people have so far been sentenced to up to four years in prison, including two on Thursday to four- and two-year terms respectively.

In February, the European Union slapped an assets freeze and visa ban on Lukashenko and around 150 other Belarusian officials as a result of the brutal opposition crackdown, but stopped short of broader economic sanctions.

Poland then led a first-of-its-kind fundraising drive to support the movement against the president, raising around 87 million euros ($123 million) for Belarusian non-governmental organizations, the independent media, students and others who have suffered under Lukashenko's regime.

Author: Darren Mara (AP, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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