Minsk, 6 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A court in Belarus has sentenced seven Ukrainians to prison on charges of disturbing the public order during an anti-government rally on April 26 in the capital of Minsk. The sentences range from one to two-and-a-half years.
The April demonstration marked the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in Ukraine, which also affected people in Belarus. The protestors accused Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenka of failing to help Chernobyl victims. The rally ended in clashes with police.
Judge Grigory Kozyritsky, who presided at the trial, said the citizenship of the defendents was not taken into account when the sentences were passed. The Ukrainian consul in Minsk, Mikhail Moskalenko, said the trial was unfair and he would appeal the verdict to Belarus' Supreme Court.
The court decision comes as the Belarus government decided to freeze the bank accounts of five of the country's leading independent newspapers and impose stiff fines on them. The State Tax Inspectorate, quoted by the Interfax news agency, said yesterday that the action was taken beacause the papers had violated accounting procedures.
The Belarus parliament yesterday called for a controversial referendum on a new constitution to be held on November 24, the same day as parliamentary by-elections. Lukashenka had proposed the referendum be held on November 7 and has opposed the by-elections.
Correspondents say Belarus has been increasingly tense as Lukashenka tries to win approval of the draft constitution, which his opponents say would give him too much power.