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U.S. Calls For Release Of Belarus Opposition Leader

24 December 2004 -- The United States has called for the release of Belarusian opposition leader Mikhail Marynich.

Marynich went on trial in Minsk yesterday on charges of stealing computers from his place of work and illegally possessing firearms. Marynich and his lawyer say the charges are made up.

In a statement, the U.S. State Department accused Belarusian authorities of prosecuting Marynich because of his political views. It said it wouldn't be the first such incident, citing the recent case of opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, charged with slander.

Marynich is a former presidential candidate and ex-mayor of Minsk. He has also served as ambassador in several countries and minister of foreign economic relations from 1994-98. In 2001, he gave up his diplomatic career to lead an opposition movement against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, widely criticized for authoritarian rule.