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Criminal Inquiry Opens After Rally In Minsk

26 March 2005 -- Belarusian authorities have opened a criminal inquiry one day after a rally in Minsk called for the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Police detained dozens of people after breaking up the unsanctioned rally of more than 1,000 protesters yesterday.

Police spokesman Oleg Khlebchenko said prosecutors had opened a criminal case for mass acts breaching the peace. He added that many of those detained could be charged and face up to a three-year jail sentence.

Opposition supporters criticize as fraudulent elections -- as well as a referendum last year -- in which Lukashenka won backing for constitutional changes enabling him to run for a third term next year.

Reports said many of the demonstrators were vendors angry about the introduction of an 18 percent VAT on goods imported from Russia.