Print run of opposition newspaper confiscated

Minsk - Belarusian police on Thursday confiscated the entire print run of an opposition newspaper, the Belapan news agency reported.

Armed law enforcers broke into the Minsk publishing office of the Tovarishch newspaper in the early morning, shortly before 14 000 copies of the tabloid were scheduled to be delivered by lorry to city kiosks.

A warrant shown to editors indicated public investigators suspected the issue had been manufactured domestically, and illegally, in an underground print plant, rather than at a registered Russian printing plant as the publishers claimed.

Another portion of the print run was confiscated in the provincial city of Zhlobin, according to the report.

Belarus' authoritarian government keeps tight control on all media, and its production. The most common form of government harassment of media is prosecution for purported violations of business law.

Sergei Vozniak, editor-in-chief of Tovarishch, said he believed law enforcers grabbed the newspaper issue because it made public the times and locations of a non-political march planned next month by Belarusian opposition, and allowed but frowned on by Belarusian authorities.

"It's obvious what they did, they grabbed the paper so people wouldn't get word about the demonstration," Vozniak said. "I have no doubt they will return the confiscated papers after the march takes place."

Police used force to prevent newspaper staff from calling associates during the raid, Vozniak claimed. About 16 000 issues will however reach readers, as police failed to halt them before lorries carried them away, he added.

Belarusian police used similar tactics last year during the country's Presidential campaign, when papers carrying the political platforms of the opposition candidate were taken into government custody, and then returned to newspaper owners once President Aleksander Lukashenko had won a third term in office.

The confiscation of the Tovarisch newspapers came less than a week after Belarusian police arrested two organisers of a European-Union march scheduled for the middle of October.

The march was sponsored by Brussels as a first step towards reconciliation between Lukashenko and his opponents, and as a way of letting the Belarusian public express its support for European values.

A former collective farm boss, Lukashenko has used a powerful KGB and police state tactics to reduce public opposition to his regime to a minimum. - Sapa-dpa