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Belarus: Dozens Detained After Lukashenka Protest

Minsk, 22 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian opposition groups say as many as 70 activists were detained late yesterday during a protest in Minsk against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. About 5,000 people gathered in the Belarus capital to demand an end to what they called Lukashenka's illegitimate rule. Vladimir Yukho, a spokesman for the Belarusian Popular Front, said police used tear gas and clubs against the protesters when they tried to assemble near Lukashenka's residence.

According to the German news agency dpa, Belarus police said several people left the pre-arranged demonstration route. Police say all those detained had been released after their papers were checked. The opposition says that many are still being held, however.

Lukashenka's five-year term was to expire Tuesday (July 20). But a controversial 1996 referendum introduced changes to the country's constitution that extended his powers and term as president until 2001.

Belarusian opposition groups and many international rights organizations say the referendum was marred by fraud and have not recognized the result.