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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minsk Congress Ousts Milinkevich

APBelarussian delegates shouting "Long live Belarus!" during a raucous opposition congress in Minsk on Saturday.
MINSK -- The Belarussian opposition voted out Alexander Milinkevich as its head Sunday, instead electing four co-leaders and calling for dialogue with the authorities.

Milinkevich, who challenged President Alexander Lukashenko in last year's presidential election and then led unprecedented protests, criticized the changes and indicated he would continue to organize street protests.

"The result is sad. Now Belarus does not have a single leader of the democratic forces, and it will be much more difficult to confront dictatorship," Milinkevich said after the vote in the Congress of Democratic Forces removed him as coalition chief.

Milinkevich had been elected leader of the sometimes fractious coalition before the March 2006 election, in which the official count gave Lukashenko a landslide third-term victory.

He led protests that drew thousands of people following the vote.

The opposition coalition approved a new strategy that calls for a "constructive dialogue with the authorities," suggesting some members saw Milinkevich as too confrontational.

"We are hoping that Lukashenko will show reason and that Milinkevich will show reason," said one of the four new opposition co-leaders, Communist Party chief Sergei Kalyakin. "We must unite not around an individual but around the idea of change."

Milinkevich said the opposition would now likely "realize two strategies," suggesting that the coalition would seek dialogue with Lukashenko, but that a movement he is forming -- For Freedom -- would unite supporters of "active measures."

"The politician's place is on the street and among the people, not at a round table with the authorities," he said.