Belarusian KGB continues hunt of young opposition activists

A crackdown on youth organizations opposing the authoritarian rule of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko continued with more arrests of teenagers, the Belapan news agency reported Monday.

Police officers and KGB agents raiding a private house outside the Belarusian capital Minsk and locations nearby over the weekend arrested more than 30 members of the banned student political group Zadzninochanne Belaruskikh Studentau (ZBS).

ZBS is dedicated to Belarusian nationalism and the eventual overthrow of Lukashenko's regime. The Belarusian Supreme Court declared ZBS illegal in 2001. Since then ZBS meetings have taken place underground, usually under the cover of social gatherings in private houses. The group operates cells in Minsk and other Belarusian cities.

Law enforcers raiding the rural cottage in a rural region outside Minsk initially locked the mostly teenage ZBS members in a single room while searching the house's premises and the ZBS members' personal effects.

A police officer during the initial phase of the break-in said he suspected the ZBS activists of possessing illegal alcohol and narcotics, said Olga Laricheva, a ZBS spokeswoman. Police then transported the ZBS members to a Minsk jail for overnight detention. Most were released within 24 hours without having charges filed against them, Belapan reported.

The raid against ZBS came one week after a Sunday police assault on a Minsk apartment arresting more than thirty members of another anti-Lukashenko youth group, called Molodoi Front.

Two of the Molodoi Front leaders were held for 72 hours and charged with organizing an illegal political gathering - a crime in Belarus carrying a maximum two year jail term penalty.

Strict Belarusian law bans most political activity by Belarusian citizens, unless he or she is a member of a sanctioned political organization.

Opposition political parties permitted by the Lukashenko regime are poorly-organized, ineptly-led, and often feud among themselves.

Lukashenko has spoken out against the more energetic and often underground youth groups opposing his regime, claiming they are breeding grounds for Fascist-style nationalism and racism. ZBS and Molodoi Front members have said they oppose Soviet-style rule in Belarus.