Minsk - Belarus authorities have laid charges against seven opposition candidates over protests following the December 19 elections.
The politicians face charges of having organised unauthorized rallies against the re-election of authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko and may face lengthy prison terms, their lawyers said late Wednesday according to the Belapan news agency.
Authorities have said an official statement on charges to be brought against 26 senior members of the opposition would be made Thursday.
Twenty of the accused have been detained.
Belarus's penal code prescribes sentences of up to 15 years for 'organizing violent unrest' and the law has been used in the past against the opposition.
In 2006, Lukashenko challenger Alexander Kozulin was sentenced to five and half years in prison, but was pardoned in 2008, following lobbying by the European Union.
Lukashenko on Thursday rejected western calls for him to release the opposition leaders and other persons detained in the recent anti- government protests.
'If you are an active participant in mass disturbances, then there is an investigation, there is a court and you will be dealt with,' Lukashenko said, in response to a reporter's question on the status of persons arrested during street protests in Minsk on December 19.
'This includes leaders of the opposition,' he said.
Lukashenko confirmed that European Union diplomats in recent weeks had warned him of sanctions if he failed to release imprisoned protesters and said he did not fear isolation from the west.
'We will not bow down to ultimatums,' Lukashenko said. 'They (western nations) want us to be weak, and the weak never succeed.'
More than 20,000 demonstrators turned out in central Minsk to protest against the allegedly fixed results. Some demonstrators tried to storm a government building.
Police arrested more than 600 while brutally breaking up the street protests. Most were sentenced to one- or two-week jail sentences, while others were fined.
According to official results, Lukashenko, who is often referred to as 'Europe's last dictator,' was elected to a fourth term with 79 per cent of the vote.
Election monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the elections as undemocratic and said the vote counting had been fraudulent.
According to witnesses, two candidates, Vladimir Neklyayev and Vitaly Rimashevsky, were first beaten up by police and then arrested.
Neklyayev was suffering from high blood pressure and was in bad condition, his lawyer Tamara Sidorenko said Wednesday.