Russia demands release of all Russian nationals detained in Minsk - Foreign Ministry

Russia has demanded the release of all Russian nationals detained in the Belarusian capital of Minsk during riots after the country's presidential elections on Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

More than 600 protesters, including nine Russians, were detained and many were injured as Belarusian police brutally dispersed the demonstration when protesters tried to storm Parliament.

"Russia has posed the urgent issue of the necessity of the early release of all the Russian citizens who were detained in Minsk on December 19 and are currently under administrative arrest in a temporary detention center," the statement said.

Belarusian police said Wednesday that it had not detained all the riot organizers in Minsk, however intends to identify and charge them.

Belarusian authorities released on Wednesday a St. Petersburg press photographer who was jailed for participating in riots after the country's presidential elections, a fellow journalist said.

Alexander Astafyev was among nine Russians detained in the riots, which broke out in Minsk as news emerged that long-standing leader Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the West, had won a fourth term in office.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministy said Astafyev, one of several journalists detained in the riots, had not received accreditation to cover the presidential elections. Astafyev has declared a hunger strike in protest.

Russian diplomats visited five of the nine detained Russians on Wednesday, Astafyev's colleague said, adding that they are being held in normal conditions. The diplomats are expected to visit the rest of the detainees on Thursday afternoon.

The Russian Embassy in Minsk has also requested that the Belarusian authorities release the remaining Russian detainees.

Irina Khalip, a journalist for the Belarusian Novaya Gazeta, was detained in the protest along with her husband, presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov. She is one of 17 people, including six opposition presidential candidates, who face criminal prosecution for allegedly organizing the riots.

The paper's editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, said he believed the detention was a response to Khalip's investigations into human rights abuses in Belarus.

He said that video footage proved that Khalip was not involved in any illegal activities during the unrest.

MOSCOW, December 22 (RIA Novosti)


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