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Crackdown on Belarussian Opposition Sparks Outrage

The latest police crackdown and arrests of Belarussian opposition activists have sparked protest in the West, even as the opposition searches for ways to regroup after the latest events.

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Riot police clash with protesters in the Belarusian capital Minsk

Saturday's arrest of Alexander Kozulin, a former dean of Minsk university and a runner-up in the March 19 presidential election that saw authoritarian Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko re-elected to a third term in office, unleashed a new chorus of protest by the West at the Belarussian leadership's tactics.

"The United States deplores today's use of force by Belarussian

authorities against peaceful demonstrators in Minsk," said US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in a statement.

The statement called "on Belarussian authorities to refrain from further use of force and arrests against those exercising their legitimate rights to assembly and expression".

Frank-Walter Steinmeier bestätigt Entführung in Irak

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier demanded the release of opposition activists

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for the immediate release Saturday of arrested Belarussian opposition activists.

"I condemn the imprisonment of opposition leader Kozulin and I

demand that he be immediately released along with the hundreds of other activists jailed over the past few days," Steinmeier said. "The fundamental rights of freedom of opinion and assembly should be assured in Belarus," said the foreign minister.

"I urgently call upon the Belarussian government to ensure without conditions, the safety of freedom of opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich."

Weißrussland Kiew Räumung

The opposition tent camp in Minsk after police stormed it

Some 7,000 joined Saturday's rally to protest the reelection last week of Alexander Lukashenko to a third term in office, which the opposition claims was rigged.

The European Union and United States have also criticized the

election, which Western poll monitors said was neither free nor fair, and have vowed to impose sanctions after police cracked down Friday on an opposition demonstration.

Wave of arrests and detentions

Meanwhile the Belarussian opposition is searching for ways to regroup after the wave of arrests and clashes with police over the past days as they protest against Lukashenko's election to a third term in office.

Alexander Kosulin

Alexander Kozulin

Relatives and supporters were unable to locate Alexander Kozulin, Kozulin's wife Irina said. "I looked for him all through the night, calling the interior ministry, the prosecutor, all possible institutions, but nowhere could they tell me where he was," Irina Kozulina told AFP.

Others in detention included the leader of the United Civic Party, Anatoly Lebedko, while the head of the Belarussian Popular Front, Vintsuk Vyachorka, was in hiding, a relative of Vyachorka told AFP.

Ales Bilatski, a leader of the Viasna human rights group that monitors prisons and courts, estimated that as many as 100 people may have been detained in Saturday evening's clash, in which a number of people were injured.

However there was no confirmation from the authorities on the number of arrests, after Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov said Saturday that the most "active" part of the crowd Kozulin had been leading had been detained.

Opposition seeks way forward

Saturday's arrests followed arrests of hundreds of mainly young activists who camped out on Minsk's October Square in a days-long protest. Most were convicted of hooliganism and handed relatively short sentences of up to two weeks.

Despite the blow dealt to the opposition, Vyachorka's deputy,

Viktor Ivashkevich, said that plans were already well advanced on forming a new united opposition movement, "For Freedom."

Weißrussland Anhänger von Alexander Milinkewitsch vor Gefängnis Kiew

Relatives and friends of arrested opposition supporters wait outside prison walls

"Many are now in prison but were convicted for 10-15 days and will come out and continue work," Ivashkevich told AFP. "There's been an explosion of activity, a new wave of young people and entrepreneurs who thought they could just work without getting involved in politics but realized it was impossible, that they had no prospects under the current authorities," Ivashkevich said.

However political analyst Sergei Pankovsky said the opposition

itself was still struggling to find its response to growing public

discontent.

"What's happening is the search for a way to use this popular discontent. Even under conditions of an information blockade, people came out onto the streets.... The opposition only aligned itself with them," said Pankovsky.

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