Belarus Protest

About 1,000 parishioners of an evangelical Christian church in Minsk, Belarus, rallied to protest its possible closure by authorities in the ex-Soviet nation.

The New Life church bought an unused building and a patch of surrounding land three years ago and made improvements, but the authorities last year ordered the church to vacate the building and sell it to the government at a nominal price.

"We are facing a tougher/spersecution than even during/sthe Communist times," said one protester, Yelena Kuchinskaya. She held a banner saying "We are Praying for Belarus."

The Oct. 21 rally was sanctioned by the authorities, and police intervene.

"Freedom of conscience must return to Belarus," Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko said at the rally. He said that about 40 parishioners had been on a hunger strike for several weeks to protest the church closure.

President Alexander Lukashenko initiated and signed legislation in 2002 that strongly favors the dominant Russian Orthodox Church and restricts the activities of smaller religious groups.

Three lawsuits and an appeal to Lukashenko have failed to reverse the decision, and the parishioners, who number about 2,000, fear the government will take steps to force them out.