Belarusian opposition leader detained by police

Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich was detained by police Thursday and taken to a court in the capital to face charges of participating in an unsanctioned march.

The detention came a day after Milinkevich led a protest rally that attracted around 10,000 people, one of the largest turnouts in demonstrations over the past six weeks against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The rally itself had received official approval, but police declared a march to the rally site to be unsanctioned.

The arrest of Milinkevich appeared to escalate authorities' attempts to repress the opposition. Although an array of opposition figures has been arrested in recent weeks, most of them do not have the wide visibility of Milinkevich either at home or abroad. Milinkevich in recent weeks has made several trips to Western countries to seek support for the opposition.

"This is Lukashenko's revenge," Milinkevich said as he waited at the court.

At least three other prominent opposition figures were detained by police after the Wednesday evening demonstration. It had centered on denunciation of the Lukashenko government's response to coping with the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, which covered about a quarter of Belarus' territory with radioactive fallout 20 years ago.

Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian People's Front organization and a former official in Milinkevich's unsuccessful presidential campaign, was detained shortly after the rally and on Thursday was sentenced to 15 days in prison for taking part in an unauthorized procession. The charge was apparently similar to the one Milinkevich faces, reports the AP.

I.L.