Belarusian prosecutor promises more trials of opposition activists

Belarus ' top prosecutor on Wednesday promised more trials of opposition activists and said prosecutors were considering holding opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich responsible for organizing mass protests. Prosecutor General Pyotr Miklashevich said that more than 500 people, including 21 foreigners, had been detained in connection with the disputed March 19 election that returned authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to office for a third term. That is about half the number of detainees estimated by rights advocates.

The election, which officials say Lukashenko won with 83 percent of the vote, set off days of demonstrations that drew thousands of people to Minsk 's central square. The protests there ended when police staged a a pre-dawn raid Friday, breaking up an opposition tent camp that had given demonstrators a round-the-clock presence.

"All the organizers of unsanctioned actions, their active participants, violators of public order, will bear administrative or criminal responsibility in accordance with the law and depending on their degree of guilt," Miklashevich said. He said Milinkevich could be charged with a misdemeanor for organizing the protests. The charge brings 15 days in jail.

He also said that another opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin, would be served criminal charges on Wednesday for allegedly organizing mass disturbances during a march on Saturday. Kozulin, who has already been charged with two counts of hooliganism, faces up to six years in prison. Rights advocates protesting conditions at a Belarusian jail where some 400 opposition supporters are being held said Tuesday that 20 inmates had gone on hunger strike.

Dozens of youth activists again flouted prohibitions on unauthorized demonstrations, rallying Tuesday outside a Minsk jail where detained protesters were being held and throwing macaroni into a box bearing the logo of Belarusian state television a play on the Russian saying "to hang noodles on the ears," which means to mislead or try to pull the wool over someone's eyes. "This macaroni symbolizes the lies that pour in rivers from the screens of all Belarusian television channels," said 22-year-old university student Denis Yevtukhovich. Five activists were detained by police.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko, whose re-election to a third term was widely derided as fraudulent and sparked a week of unprecedented protests, told a government meeting that police action maintained the stability of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. "Peace and order have returned the country just as it was," he said in televised comments Tuesday, "despite certain individual outbursts which law enforcement agencies well done! very quickly and efficiently put in their places."

Rights advocates have alleged prisoners were being held in crowded conditions, and were denied water and the right to receive care packages. Up to 18 inmates were squeezed into cells designed to accommodate five, they said. Milinkevich, who received 6.1 percent of the vote according to the official count, called the election a fraud. The United States and the European Union said the vote was deeply undemocratic and have vowed sanctions including travel bans against Lukashenko and other officials, reports the AP.

N.U.