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Andrey Sannikau
MINSK -- Jailed Belarusian opposition politician Andrey Sannikau has made public a letter in which he demands a new round of presidential elections.

The open letter was posted on May 30 on the opposition online website Charter-97.

In his statement, Sannikau says he does not recognize the official result of the presidential election held on December 19 that declared incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka the winner.

International election monitors said the vote was flawed.

"The worst predictions about the possible development of the situation in Belarus after the presidential election turned out to be true," Sannikau wrote. "The incompetence of the country's current leadership to run the country has been proven long ago, but now it is becoming more and more obvious, as the economic situation in Belarus is in grave condition."

Sannikau reiterated his view that the December 19 presidential elections were illegitimate and rigged.

"It was clear that the first round of the election did not produce a winner, and therefore a second round of voting should be held," he said. "President Lukashenka should accept that he failed to get at least 50 percent of votes, and since the [Central Election Commission] rated me second after Lukashenka in terms of the number of votes, I am ready to take part in the second round of the elections that should be held under international control."

Sannikau was arrested after some 15,000 people took part in antigovernment demonstrations on December 19 to protest the announcement of Lukashenka's reelection. He was found guilty of organizing mass riots and sentenced on May 14 to five years in prison.

Hundreds of protesters were arrested at the demonstration and in the succeeding days, including almost all opposition presidential candidates.

Read more in Belarusian here
Russian security forces detain one of the participants in a gay-pride rally in Moscow on May 28.
Dozens of people have been detained after gay-rights activists and opponents of an unauthorized gay-pride march clashed in the Russian capital, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Activists from Russia, Europe, and the United States had planned two gay-rights advocacy events near the Kremlin despite a vow by the authorities to arrest anyone who showed up after approval was denied by the city for a rally.

Some 34 people were detained in all, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service, including from among gay-rights activists and their opponents.

The crackdown against the activists was condemned by Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseyeva, who characterized the incident another infringement on the right to peaceful assembly and a "sign of an...undemocratic state."

An RFE/RL correspondent said the fighting broke out after a group of "radical-looking youths" confronted gay-rights demonstrators.

Police wrestled members of both sides to the ground and led them off to waiting security vans.

Clashes broke out when antigay youths (pictured) confronted participants in the banned gay-pride rally in downtown Moscow on May 28.

Russian authorities have for years denied homosexuals permission to hold demonstrations on the grounds that they would cause a violent reaction in the country, where prejudice against gay people runs deep.

Amnesty International had weighed in to urge Russian authorities to allow the May 28 gay-rights event to go ahead.

Efforts that began in 2006 to hold the event have consistently been met with official bullying, arrests, and clashes with police and antigay onlookers.

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled in October 2010 that Moscow authorities had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by forbidding the rallies in 2006, 2007, and 2008.



Gay-rights activists hoping that a recent change in Moscow's political leadership -- away from the famously homophobic former mayor, Yury Luzhkov, to successor Sergei Sobyanin -- might help them break the cycle have been disappointed.

Russian activists vowed after receiving the authorities' rejection letter on May 17 that they would proceed with the gay-pride event in the capital.

Homosexuality was a criminal offense in Russia until the early 1990s.

written by Andy Heil based on RFE/RL and agency reports

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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