Belarus opposition leader begins hunger strike

AFP Friday October 20, 10:53 PM

MINSK (AFP) - Belarus opposition leader and former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin, condemned to five and a half years in jail for "hooliganism", began a hunger strike, his lawyer said.

"He wants, above all else, to call to the attention of Belarus and international opinion the absence of Lukashenko's legitimacy," Kozulin's wife Irina told AFP, referring to Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko.

Irina Kozulin said she visited her husband on Wednesday for the first time since his arrest and detention in March.

During the visit, she said, her husband announced that he would end his hunger strike "if the United Nations Security Council begins an examination of the situation in Belarus, or following any similar action which shows that the international community is paying attention to Belarus."

The Social Democrat Party leader was condemned in July for "aggressive hooliganism," and organising events likely to disrupt public order.

In March he headed a protest against Lukashenko's re-election earlier that month, and was arrested when the demonstration was broken up violently by the police.

Lukashenko's March 19 election victory was recognized by neighboring Russia, but criticized by international observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Hundreds of protesters who criticized the election result have received prison sentences for "hooliganism" and "holding unauthorized meetings".