Monday, May 01, 2006

Belarus May 1 March Calls For Freedom From Prison For Democratic Opposition Leaders And End To Worker Exploitation And Intimidation

MINSK (Reuters) - More than 1,000 protesters carrying banned flags marched through Belarus's capital on Monday to demand the release of jailed opposition leaders who had pledged to work for the removal of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Marchers were nominally marking the May Day holiday and among their slogans was a call to end short-term labor contracts they say allow employers to intimidate workers.

But the thrust of the protest, authorized by city officials, was to press for the release of Alexander Milinkevich, the opposition's main leader, and other activists jailed for up to 15 days after a rally last week.

Milinkevich had challenged Lukashenko's landslide re-election victory in March, denounced by the opposition and in the West as blatantly rigged.

``Freedom for Milinkevich!'' marchers shouted as they passed along the approved route. Many carried the red-and-white national flag banned by Lukashenko in his 1990s drive to restore Soviet-style symbols.

``Not all our friends are here today. Many are behind bars,'' Alexander Dobrovolsky of the United Civic Party told protesters from a wooden rostrum in an outlying square surrounded by parkland.

``We need solidarity to keep us together every day.''

Milinkevich was summoned by police and taken to a courtroom after telling 7,000 protesters last Wednesday that the opposition intended to use civil disobedience to turf Lukashenko out of the office he has held since 1994 in two years or less.

Last Wednesday's campaign coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster over the border in Ukraine, traditionally the biggest opposition rally of the year.

Also jailed on public order charges were veteran activist Vintsuk Vechorko, Communist opposition campaigner Sergei Kalyakin and trade unionist Alexander Bukhvostov.

Stanislav Shushkevich, Belarus's first post-Soviet leader and now a prominent opposition figure, told Reuters after the May Day protest that he had already been summoned to appear before police on Wednesday.

Milinkevich's wife, Inna Kulei, told Monday's marchers that the jailed opposition figures had now been placed in separate cells after being initially confined together.

``The authorities are afraid of us. They are afraid of our leaders even when they are in jail,'' she said. ``Now they've separated them because they are afraid they will prepare a coup if they serve their time together in one cell.'' ...

Reuters "Belarus Rally Demands Release of Opposition Chiefs" May 1, 2006 via

In Moscow, several thousand communists staged a May Day 2006 rally reminiscent of those held at the height of the Soviet era.

Photo credit: Associated Press. With thanks.


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