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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Milinkevich Detained Over the Weekend

bloombergAlexander Milinkevich
MINSK -- The leader of Belarus' beleaguered opposition, Alexander Milinkevich, was detained twice by police Saturday, his spokesman said.

Milinkevich, the keystone of an unprecedented wave of protests last year against authoritarian Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, was detained in the morning on suspicion of drunken driving while traveling to meet with voters in the run-up to this month's local and regional elections, spokesman Pavel Mazheiku said.

He was released after he was found to be not intoxicated, but several hours later was detained on suspicion of being involved in a traffic accident, Mazheiku said. Milinkevich remained in custody Saturday afternoon, the spokesman said.

Police declined to comment on the claim.

Milinkevich has been detained at least three other times since late November in what supporters call an official campaign of harassment. In those incidents, he was held on suspicion of using a forged passport, of dealing drugs and of killing a pedestrian in a traffic accident. No charges were filed in any of those cases.

Under Lukashenko, Belarus has cracked down on opposition and independent news media and has become a pariah state to the West.

Milinkevich ran against Lukashenko in the March 2006 presidential elections, which were widely criticized in the West as neither free nor fair. A large, unauthorized protest rally took place on the night of the elections in Minsk and protests continued daily for a week -- an unusual series of events in a country where unsanctioned gatherings are usually broken up swiftly and harshly by police. Lukashenko has repeatedly vowed that his country will not witness any uprisings akin to those that took place in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Another protest in April gathered at least 10,000 people. Milinkevich was arrested after it and sentenced to 15 days in jail.