Belarus police arrest election demonstrator, journalist

Minsk - Belarusian police detained a man demonstrating against authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko and a journalist for attempting to photograph the arrest, the Belapan news agency reported Thursday.

The incident took place Wednesday evening in a residential district of the capital Minsk during an election rally organised by Belarus' National Bolshevik Party, an extreme right wing political group.

Plain-clothes officers moved to detain Evgeniy Kontush, a National Bolshevik activist who had been waving a banner with the slogan 'A different president!' as the rally was ending.

Other National Bolsheviks had handed out pamphlets calling on them to vote 'For anyone but (Belarusian President Aleksander) Lukashenko!' to pedestrians. Public criticism of the Belarusian leadership normally is banned.

The election rally was a rare sanctioned public demonstration of opposition to Lukashenko, who in the run-up to a presidential election scheduled December 19 has loosened slightly state controls on freedom of assembly and independent media.

Kontush violated the government sanction by leading the National Bolshevik demonstration participants from a city park, where the rally was permitted, to sidewalk in front of a nearby hotel, where political are banned, police said.

Two journalists attempted to photograph Kontush's detention.

Police arrested one of the journalists, Anton Taras of Belapan, after he refused to stop taking pictures. He said the police officers' refusal to identify themselves or explain how his picture-taking violated the law.

Belarusian law technically allows most media freedoms. Police and judges as a practical matter ignore those protections when prosecuting journalists at odds with authorities.

Police released Kontush and Taras early Thursday morning without filing charges against them.

Most political observers in Belarus give Lukashenko's opponents few chances of defeating him in the upcoming presidential vote.

Lukahenko has said he intends to win the election 'fairly' and without vote fraud, claiming he is supported by a strong majority of Belarusians.


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