Belarus Arrests Independence Day Protesters

Posted July 3rd, 2011 at 11:40 am (UTC-5)
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Police in Belarus have arrested a number of opposition protesters for disrupting an Independence Day speech by President Alexander Lukashenko.

The protesters, who organize via online social networking, started clapping as the president began his speech in the capital, Minsk.

The government blocked access to several social networking web sites on Sunday in response to the movement. The opposition has been holding rallies in which they clap but otherwise remain silent to protest Mr. Lukashenko's authoritarian rule and a deepening economic crisis.

Last month, the European Union imposed additional sanctions on Belarus, in reaction to the government's protracted crackdown on political dissidents and activists.

The 27-nation bloc already has frozen the assets and imposed travel restrictions on President Lukashenko and more than 150 others — both government officials and close associates of the president.

Belarus has come under increased international scrutiny after a disputed election in December won by Mr. Lukashenko, and because of the economic crisis.

Also last month, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a special report accusing Mr. Lukashenko's government of systematically using fear, harassment, torture and blackmail to clamp down on its citizens.

U.S. President Barack Obama also has criticized the repression in Belarus, saying Mr. Lukashenko has shown a total disregard for democratic values, the rule of law and his own people.