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Belarusians Demanding Return Of Catholic Properties Detained

St. Joseph's Church in Minsk

St. Joseph's Church in Minsk

MINSK -- Minsk police have again used force against activists who are demanding that the buildings of a 17th-century Catholic church and monastery be returned to the local Catholic community, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

On September 21, plainclothes police officers detained Pavel Sеvyarynets and Vital Rymasheuski, the co-chairmen of the opposition Belarusian Christian Democracy party, shortly before a scheduled demonstration at the St. Joseph's Church and Bernadine Monastery.

Sevyarynets told RFE/RL the police drove them around the city for about an hour before releasing them several kilometers from the church and monastery. Sevyarynets said they twisted Rymasheuski's arms, threatening to break both of them.

The opposition activists have been staging demonstrations daily since September 16. They say they will continue to protest until the church and monastery are returned to the local Catholic parish.

Police detained 18 activists on September 16. On September 20, police used force to disperse a similar protest, detaining 12 activists, some of whom were allegedly beaten.

The activists say the Minsk authorities plan to convert the church and monastery into a hotel. Part of the church building is currently used by the National Archive.

The local Catholic community has been campaigning for six years to regain control of the church.

Roman Catholics make up about 10 percent of Belarus's population of 9.6 million, and are based mainly in the western part of the country where there are large ethnic Polish and Lithuanian communities.