Minsk, 23 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A Belarusian court gave a three-year suspended jail sentence today to opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir. The court found Chyhir, who led the Belarusian government from 1994 to 1996, guilty of tax evasion in 1998 and 1999 while he worked for a German company in Moscow. He has called the charges politically motivated.
Chyhir and other opposition activists attempted to organize a dissident presidential election in 1999, when Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's term legally ended.
But Lukashenka extended his own term as president until 2001 through a referendum that was never recognized by Western governments or by the opposition. He went on to claim a broad victory in September 2001 in an election that Western observers said was invalidated by fraud and misconduct.