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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minsk Courts Send Dozens of Protesters to Jail

APA student showing a V-sign from a police bus as he is taken to court Monday.
MINSK -- Belarussian courts on Monday jailed for up to 15 days dozens of mostly young protesters detained when police broke up rallies against a presidential election judged unfair by the West.

The European Union, accused by Minsk of trying to foment revolution, urged the release of the protesters, and several countries, including France and Slovakia, called in Belarussian ambassadors to protest the police's use of force.

Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich dismissed the trials as a farce and said his supporters would campaign nationwide to win more public backing and organize bigger protests.

The opposition rallied up to 10,000 supporters for protests in the past week, demonstrations unmatched in recent years in the country where President Alexander Lukashenko rules with an authoritarian hand.

But the protests against his re-election with a landslide 83 percent a week ago came to an abrupt halt on Saturday when police broke up a march and detained dozens of demonstrators.

At the Leninsky District Court on Minsk's outskirts, a judge read out verdicts in a monotone, sentencing six young women to seven days in jail each in less than 30 minutes.

No defense lawyers were present, and the verdicts for taking part in an unauthorized rally were rubberstamped irrespective of whether the accused pleaded guilty.

"This is a sheer farce, this is not a real trial," said Milinkevich, whose son was given a 15-day sentence by another court, according to a human rights group.

"The sentences must have been pre-written. ... The judge was virtually ashamed to raise his eyes," he said in an interview.

Among those detained at the weekend was Alexander Kozulin, an opposition presidential challenger. Police have declined to say where Kozulin is being held, but prosecutors said they would announce charges against him later in the day.

A local human rights body, Vyasna, said 114 protesters had been sentenced to up to 15 days on public order offences.

The activists were unbowed.

"This is sheer lawlessness," said Yury, 42, after his 19-year-old daughter was jailed. "All my friends say I must be proud of Nastya, and I really am."

Police said they used force only after Saturday's rally turned violent.

Police have not revealed the number of people detained, but the opposition said around 100 protesters were being held.

Milinkevich pledged to call new rallies.


AP

Pro-government activists rallying Monday at the French Embassy in Minsk.

"We need five or 10 times more protesters," he said. "We need a nationwide information campaign. ... Half the country does not know what is really going on in Minsk."

The EU urged the countries bordering Belarus to speak to Minsk with one voice.

"We urge also our international partners and, in particular, the neighbors of Belarus to really follow this same approach," said EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

But Russia, which views Belarus as an ally and rapidly congratulated Lukashenko after the election, looked unlikely to put pressure on its neighbor.