Belarus theatre directors held in poll crackdown

Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent

Members of the Belarus Free Theatre company whose work has been championed by Jude Law and Sienna Miller have been arrested in a crackdown on protests against the results of the Belarus presidential election.

Natalia Koliada and Nikolai Khalezin, the husband and wife co-directors, were among opposition leaders and hundreds more seized in the former Soviet republic.

A documentary film, Staging a Revolution, about the theatre's work, was premiered in London in Sunday, the night of the arrests.

Belarussian expatriates who attended expressed anger as news began to emerge of trouble in Kastrychnitskaya Square in the capital of Minsk.

Tens of thousands of protesters had gathered to claim the election, which returned Alexander Lukashenko for a fourth term, was rigged. Violence broke out and security forces used tear gas and truncheons to disperse the crowd.

Sienna Miller, who took part in a Young Vic benefit with members of the Belarus Free Theatre this month, expressed her fears for the couple and said: "Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe. We cannot permit this behaviour to continue."

Further demonstrations are expected outside the Belarus embassy in London tonight.

Mr Lukashenko appeared to have quashed the uprising, declaring that he was the overwhelming winner of the election.

At a news conference, he criticised opposition candidates for refusing to tolerate the brutality of the Belarusian police. "What a disgrace. They wanted to become presidents. What kind of president are you if you are whacked in the face and you cry blue murder? Why are you howling? What kind of president are you? You should put up with it!"

One opposition candidate, Vladimir Neklyayev, was beaten by police as he tried to lead supporters to the protest. He was taken to hospital and seven men in civilian clothing wrapped him in a blanket on his hospital bed and carried him away as his wife screamed. Six other candidates were arrested.


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