Belarus Awards Custody of Opposition Candidate's Son to Family

By Katya Andrusz

The Belarusian authorities have awarded custody of the son of Andrei Sannikov, an opposition candidate in December presidential elections arrested after the vote, to the boy's grandmother, the Belarus embassy in Warsaw said.

"The decision is official," said embassy spokesman Alexei Zelenko by phone, adding it had been taken yesterday.

More than 700 people, including Sannikov and other opposition presidential candidates, were arrested after protests in Minsk following the Dec. 19 election in which Alexander Lukashenko was declared to have won a fourth term in office with 79.7 percent of the vote. The New York Times reported on Jan. 11 that the Belarusian government had warned it might take custody of Sannikov's 3-year-old son, Danil. Sannikov's wife was also detained.

"They saw they couldn't win this battle and didn't want to deepen all the bad PR they were getting," Joerg Forbrig, senior program officer for Central and Eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin, said in a telephone interview. " But this is just a one-off thing. The really big story is yet to come with the trials of those arrested after last month's elections."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election wasn't free, fair or transparent and that the process was "marred" by the arrests. The U.S. also condemned the crackdown and said it "cannot accept as legitimate" the official election results.

Lukashenko was sworn in today for a five-year-term as Belarusian president, the Interfax news agency reported.

To contact the reporter on this story: Katya Andrusz in Warsaw at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Willy Morris at


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