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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Leader of Opposition Acquitted in Belarus

MINSK, Belarus -- A Belarussian court on Wednesday found an opposition leader not guilty of organizing an illegal rally last month where police beat dozens of protesters and detained hundreds, his supporters said.

The Charter '97 opposition movement said Alexander Lebedko, detained before the March 25 demonstration even began, had been cleared of all wrongdoing. He spent three days in detention last week.

Lebedko, deputy speaker of a parliament dissolved by President Alexander Lukashenko in 1996, frequently speaks for the liberal and nationalist opposition at international gatherings.

Lukashenko has ruled out negotiations that the opposition is seeking to ensure free parliamentary elections this autumn and he has denounced protesters as "dropouts."

But he criticized the detention by police of journalists and the use of armored vehicles at the March 25 rally while he was out of the country.

The police beatings and arrests - including the detentions of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer, a member of the Polish parliament and 28 journalists, among them Russian television correspondents and an Associated Press reporter - sparked wide-spread foreign criticism of the already isolated state.

Another prominent opposition leader was sentenced last week to 10 days in jail for organizing the demonstration, which was meant to protest both Lukashenko's authoritarian leadership and Belarus's policy of pursuing a union with Russia.

A delegation of European parliamentarians and human rights groups canceled without explanation a planned visit to Minsk this week to urge dialogue on all the sides.