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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Opposition Leader Freed From Minsk Prison

ReutersKalyakin waving after his release Thursday from a detention center in Minsk.
MINSK --- The first of a number of Belarussian opposition figures jailed for disturbing public order was freed from prison Thursday and immediately vowed to press on with a campaign against President Alexander Lukashenko.

Sergei Kalyakin was jailed for 14 days after a rally on April 26, the anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the opposition's biggest protest of the year against what the West says is Lukashenko's longstanding abuse of human rights.

Awaited outside the prison by dozens of supporters, Kalyakin was not allowed to walk out of the facility, but was instead escorted out of a back door and driven home. He later returned to address his supporters on the prison steps.

"As you can see, I have fully redeemed myself," Kalyakin, a communist and prominent opposition figure, told activists.

"I am ready to carry on the fight against this regime. Life goes on, as does our fight. I believe this regime has very little time left. The ground is being pulled out from under its feet."

The opposition has been rejuvenated since Lukashenko's landslide re-election in March -- denounced as rigged by his opponents and the West -- spawned unprecedented protests in central Minsk.

Police allowed the protests to proceed on the central Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad for four days before dispersing them.

Smaller protests have taken place since, and courts have sentenced Lukashenko's leading opponents to short prison terms -- including main opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, who finished a distant second in the poll.

Police have routinely rounded up activists, including several at a rally of about 70 people on Wednesday. An opposition activist was sentenced to two years of forced labor on Wednesday for spraying graffiti on Minsk walls.

Anatoly Lebedko, another veteran activist, was detained for several hours on Wednesday. He served a short prison term in March.

Milinkevich was to complete his 15-day sentence on Friday, as were opposition figures Vintsuk Vechorko and trade union activist Alexander Bukhvostov.