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Belarusian Police Disperse Protest Over Detentions

Police disperse opposition activists in Minsk
MINSK -- Police in Belarus dispersed a protest by dozens of opposition activists denouncing what they said was the detention of comrades after a bomb blast at a concert attended by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Riot police moved into the capital, Minsk's, main October Square on July 14 and pushed out about 30 demonstrators carrying portraits of opposition figures they said were being held after the July 4 explosion, which wounded more than 50 people.

Senior opposition figure Anatoly Lebedko was knocked to the ground and told reporters he had been kicked by an officer.

"The authorities have ignored our call not to launch a crusade against those who do not agree with them on the pretext of fighting terrorism," Lebedko said. "The crusade has started and every day there are more and more victims."

Lukashenka is accused in the West of violating basic freedoms and says he hopes a September election to parliament will prove that Belarus respects democratic principles.

The often divided liberal and nationalist opposition says about a dozen activists were rounded up after the explosion at an outdoor concert marking Belarus's national holiday.

Three were released after proving they were unconnected with the incident. Authorities have said nothing about detentions.

Authorities played down the seriousness of the blast by calling it "hooliganism," implying no political dimension, and no one has claimed responsibility. Lukashenka has pledged to stage no crackdown on opponents.

Opposition groups say the detentions could compromise the September election and suggested last week they could pull out unless their members were freed.

A boycott would diminish any chance of Western recognition. The opposition currently has no seats in parliament.

Lukashenka, barred from entering the United States and European Union, has been trying to improve ties with the EU, which says any such development depends on democratic change.

Broadly popular among Belarus's 10 million people, the president has pledged to oversee a fair campaign, with broadcast time for all candidates and free access for Western observers.