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U.S., EU Decry Convictions Of Belarusian Oppositionists

Graffiti states the opposition's view of last year's disputed referendum (file photo) 1 June 2005 -- The United States and the European Union today condemned the convictions of two Belarusian opposition leaders who organized mass antigovernment protests last year.

The protests were called after a disputed referendum that allowed Alyaksandr Lukashenka to seek a third term as Belarus' president.

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk released a statement calling the sentencing today a "parody of justice."

A Minsk court sentenced Mikalay Statkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets to three years of correctional labor each. Both pleaded innocent and said the trial was politicized.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a statement that "even by the standards of Belarus, this is an excessive penalty" for nonviolent democratic activity.

Solana also recalled doubts raised after the October referendum that scrapped presidential term limits and gave Lukashenka the go-ahead to seek a third term in 2006. The vote prompted days of protests by opposition parties and youth activists.


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