Belarusian police detain two top planners of EU march in Minsk

Minsk - Belarusian police have detained two top planners of a European Union-sponsored march in the capital Minsk, the Belapan news agency reported Wednesday. A police special forces team late on Tuesday evening grabbed Viktor Ivashkevich, a senior member of the opposition Belarusian National Front party, and Valery Ukhnolev, a senior member of the opposition Communist party at a central Minsk cafe.

Ivashkevich and Ukhnolev are lead organizers of an EU-sponsored march scheduled in Minsk on October 14.

The event, entitled "The European March For Freedom!," is intended by Brussels as a first step in developing a dialogue between the Belarusian opposition, and the country's authoritarian leader Aleksander Lukashenko.

The pair had been meeting in Minsk's El Pomidoro cafe to celebrate Ivashkevich's birthday, an opposition spokesman told Belapan.

Law enforcers placed Ukhnolev in a police station holding tank for intoxicated persons, and released him early Wednesday morning.

Ukhnolev on Wednesday afternoon remained in police custody, and would face charges of violating public assembly law, according to the report.

The arrests are a defeat for the tentative EU effort to reach out to the authoritarian leader of Belarus, Lukashenko, by convincing him to allow a large public demonstration in support of European values, if participants guaranteed the march would be peaceful.

Talks between Belarusian authorities and EU representatives on conducting the march in Minsk have been in progress for months, but so far the regime has not given an official go-ahead.

An EU delegation was attempting on Wednesday to meet with Lukashenko representatives to discuss the two detentions, according to the report.

Igor Rynkevich, an opposition official, told Belapan the arrests were proof "compromise with the regime is a policy needing reconsideration."

Public demonstrations are generally banned in Belarus. Opposition activists as a result frequently co-opt as a protest venue the few public marches allowed by the regime, particularly an annual memorial march commemorating the Chernobyl nuclear power accident.