Hunger-striking Belarussian activist said to be in hospital

By Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK, Oct 31 (Reuters) - A jailed activist who challenged President Alexander Lukashenko's bid for re-election is in hospital more than a week after starting a hunger strike, the country's prosecutor general was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Alexander Kozulin, one of two opposition figures who ran against Lukashenko in March, was sentenced to 5 1/2 years for his role in organising unprecedented street rallies to denounce official results giving the president a landslide win.

Kozulin, a former university rector, announced a hunger strike from Oct 20, saying it was intended to galvanise the ex-Soviet state's small and often disunited opposition.

"Inmate Kozulin declared an open-ended hunger strike on October 20. He has spoken of no health problems," local media quoted Prosecutor General Pyotr Miklashevich as saying.

"But as he has proceeded with his hunger strike, Kozulin was taken into care in the medical department of the penal institution and is under observation by doctors."

Kozulin's daughter, Yulia, said the prison's director had denied he was receiving hospital treatment.

"He said by telephone that Kozulin was excused from work but had not been placed in isolation or taken to hospital and that everything was all right with his health," she told Reuters.

Prison officials refused comment.

The United States and European Union have denounced Lukashenko's re-election as rigged and have demanded Kozulin's release.

The other opposition activist to run against Lukashenko, Alexander Milinkevich, was awarded the European Union's Sakharov human rights prize last week.

Kozulin's relatives, who tried to dissuade him from starting the hunger strike, say they have no reliable information on his well-being in the prison in the eastern town of Vitebsk.

"I asked to meet him on Monday but was refused," said lawyer Igor Rynkevich. "We are afraid that by using the hospital as a pretext, he will be cut off from the outside world."

The trial of another opposition activist, Dmitry Dashkevich, charged with membership of an unregistered organisation, went into its second day in a Minsk courthouse.

Several dozen activists carrying portraits of the accused paraded outside the courthouse for the second day running. Demonstrators said police detained about 10 of them.

Dashkevich, a leader of the Young Front group, faces up to two years in prison in what opposition leader Milinkevich denounced as a show trial.

In the run-up to Lukashenko's re-election, Belarus imposed stiff penalties for several offences to counter what officials said was a threat to national security.