Belarussian Protesters Arrested

MINSK (Reuter)About 100 people have been detained in Belarus after angry scuffles at a protest against the policies of President Alexander Lukashenko–opposition leaders said on Tuesday.

"We estimate that about 100 people–mostly teenagers–were detained after yesterday’s events," Vyacheslav Sivchyk–secretary of the Belarussian Popular Front–which helped organize the protest–told a news conference.

"The authorities fear a political spring in Belarus," he added.

Several thousand people marched through the center of the capital Minsk to protest against hard-line leader Lukashenko’s drive for closer ties with Russia–defying an order by local authorities banning demonstrations by more than 40 people.

Interfax news agency said several people were injured in the protest–during which demonstrators burned an effigy of Lukashenko and a Russian flag.

Police stopped protesters marching towards Lukashenko’s residence.

Popular Front leader Lyavon Barshchevski appeared briefly at the news conference and said he had been beaten and detained by men in civilian clothes after the protest.

Vladimir Statkevich–an opposition activist aged about 30 had a black eye and marks around his wrists. He said plain-clothed police handcuffed him and beat him around the head and chest.

The protest was directed against the arrival in Minsk of a delegation of Russian deputies to discuss integration between the two former Soviet republics.

Lukashenko met Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow last Friday and the two leaders agreed to step up moves towards closer union under the terms of a 1996 agreement on creating a "community" of the two countries.

Lukashenko–under fire from the West for assuming sweeping powers and rewriting his country’s constitution–ordered limits on political rallies last week and banned opponents from using post-independence national symbols which he has scrapped in favor of old Soviet ones.

Sivchyk said one protester had been fined the equivalent of about $100 and another had been imprisoned for 10 days. Opposition forces plan to hold another rally on March 15Constitution Day in Belarus.

Sivchyk signaled further clashes at the protest–banned by local authorities who ruled only a meeting could be staged. "Everyone knows people will gather on March 15 anyway," he said.

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