Belarus police detain dozens of protesters

December 19, 2011 - 3:41 PM
Belarus Protest

Belarus plainclothes policemen detain protesters during an opposition action devoted for anniversary of the presidential election in Belarus, Minsk, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011. About 30 protesters are thought to have been arrested. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Dozens of demonstrators, including some topless female activists, were detained Monday for denouncing Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko on the first anniversary of his re-election.

It was the latest crackdown on dissent in the ex-Soviet state, where Lukashenko has repressed the opposition and stifled independent news media since becoming leader in 1994.

Protesters on Minsk's main square Monday carried candles and pictures of people still jailed after protests on election night a year ago, when tens of thousands of Belarusians denounced a Lukashenko win they claimed was fraudulent.

Some 700 people were arrested in those protests, scores of whom remain behind bars.

Police quickly broke up the unauthorized rally Monday, arresting around 30 people. Human rights group Vesna said some of the arrested were beaten.

Also Monday, three members of the Ukrainian group of female activists called Femen and several journalists were detained after the women bared their breasts in front of the Belarusian KGB headquarters and called for freedom for political prisoners.

The women were released after several hours, but the journalists were still in detention on Monday night.

In a joint statement marking the election's one-year anniversary, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton demanded that "all political prisoners to be immediately released and rehabilitated."

The pair also expressed "grave concern over new laws that will further restrict citizens' fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression and that target support to civil society," the statement said.