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Protesters Rally Against Belarus Eviction Of Ethnic Poles

Ethnic Poles rallying in Hrodna today

Ethnic Poles rallying in Hrodna today

HRODNA, Belarus -- Some 200 people have rallied in western Belarus to protest the eviction of an ethnic Polish organization from its offices earlier this week, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

The rally in Hrodna comes amid a row between Poland and Belarus over the treatment of the cultural group, the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB.)

Poland on February 9 recalled its ambassador to Belarus and President Lech Kaczynski expressed concern after police seized a building used by the group in Ivyanets, a town some 50 kilometers from the capital, Minsk.

The president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, also weighed in, on February 9 calling on Belarusian authorities to "stop taking drastic measures against the Polish minority."

And former Belarusian presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich condemned the move, saying it damaged "the national interests of our country and does not help it choose the European path of development."

The ZPB was unregistered by Belarusian authorities after it elected Andzelika Borys as its chairwoman four years ago.

Belarusian officials instead have registered a pro-government alternative called the Union of Belarusian Poles. But Warsaw recognizes Borys's ZPB as the sole legal representative of the Polish minority in Belarus.

It is a nonpolitical organization set up to promote the Polish language and cultural traditions among ethnic Poles living in Belarus. It says it has about 20,000 members.

RFE/RL reports that police officers recorded today's rally in Hrodna on video but otherwise did not intervene.

The rally outside Hrodna's Polish House was also timed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first Soviet deportations of local Poles to Siberia.

Meanwhile, a court in the city on February 9 increased a fine on a firm led by Borys to some $42,000. Last week the firm, Polonica, was fined some $24,000 after another court found it guilty of financial irregularities.