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Police Break Up Minsk Rally Protesting Lukashenka

19 October 2004 -- Police broke up a rally in Minsk tonight protesting against the results of a referendum that allowed Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to extend his rule after a decade in power.

About 500 protesters chanting "Shame on Lukashenka!" and "Long live Belarus!" marched from Minsk's main square down the capital's central street. They carried a banner that said "Down with tyranny!"

Western news reports say police wielding batons beat demonstrators. More than 20 protesters were reported detained. Leading opposition leader Nikolai Lebedko, head of the United Civil Party, was among the detained.

His party said Lebedko had been badly hurt and would need medical treatment. The extent of other protesters' injuries was unclear.

The rally came two days after a nationwide referendum in which Lukashenka won the support of over 80 percent of voters for a proposal to lift a constitutional rule limiting him to two terms.

The opposition denounced the results as fraudulent. Western observers said the poll, held alongside parliamentary elections, fell badly short of international standards.