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Police Silent As 3,000 Democracy Supporters Rally In Minsk

Leading opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, shown here on Feb. 17 after becoming an official candidate, told the crowd Belarus will soon be free ( March 2, 2006 -- Some 3,000 opposition supporters rallied in the Belarus capital Minsk tonight amid rising tensions in the runup to the Belarus presidential election on March 19.

Alyaksandr Milenkevich, the leader of the opposition and main challenger to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, addressed the crowd and predicted that Belarus will soon be a free country.

"Dear friends, I congratulate you. Freedom, justice, and the truth are coming to Belarus. And we will win the right to live as humans, to live in Europe and to be a free country. Long live Belarus!"

The crowd chanted back, "Long live Belarus!"

The authorities had said the rally was unsanctioned and said they had the right to use force against demonstrators. Some 1,000 police were reportedly at the scene but did not intervene, and the rally ended peacefully.

The United States today sharply criticized the Belarus authorities, saying they are trying to undermine democratic institutions. A U.S. statement said the authorities had harassed and intimidated non-government organizations, opposition political figures and civil society groups.

Lukashenka today warned Western nations again not to interfere in his country's affairs. He urged vigilance against "provocations."

Earlier today, another of Lukashenka's challengers in the presidential poll -- Alyaksandr Kazulin of the opposition Social Democrats -- was detained for several hours and allegedly beaten by security agents. He has since been released.

(compiled from agency reports)

Belarus Votes 2006

Belarus Votes 2006

Click on the image to view a dedicated page with news, analysis, and background information about the Belarusian presidential ballot.

MEET THE CANDIDATES: Read brief biographies of the four candidates in the March 19 election.

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