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Belarus KGB Detains Suspects As State Pushes 'Armed Provocateurs' Claim

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

MINSK -- State television reports in Belarus say the country's security agency, the KGB, has detained an unspecified number of people suspected of plotting mass disorder.

The reports late on March 22 said that members of groups called White Legion and the Patriot club were detained on March 21 and 22. They said the Patriot club has training camps in the eastern cities of Babruysk and Mahilyou.

The reports appeared aimed at adding substance to a claim by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who said on March 21 that some 20 armed militants who had been trained in militant camps in Babruysk and Mahilyou -- as well as in Ukraine and "most likely" in Lithuania and Poland -- had been apprehended on suspicion of planning "armed provocations" nationwide.

Lukashenka's claims came amid a series of protests in cities nationwide over a tax on unemployed people, with more protests planned on March 25. Facing some of the biggest demonstrations in years in the tightly controlled country, the long-ruling authoritarian leader branded political opponents on March 20 as a Western-backed "fifth column" that wants "to impose tension in Belarus."

More than 150 people were detained in Belarus between March 1 and March 20, and the Minsk-based human rights group Vyasna (Spring) said that at least 17 people the authorities claim are members of White Legion or the Patriot club have now been detained as well.

It said they included the leader of the unregistered opposition Malady Front (Youth Front) movement, Zmitser Dashkevich.

Relatives of detainees told RFE/RL on March 23 that family members and lawyers had not been allowed to see them.

The opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) party condemned the detentions, calling them politically motivated and demanding the immediate release of the detainees.

The BNF disputed the authorities' claim that detainees had been armed or that they were members of the two groups named in the state TV reports, saying that White Legion ceased operations 10 years ago and the Patriot club is now registered as a part of the Center for Youth and Children.

On March 22, Ukraine and EU-member Lithuania strongly rejected Lukashenka's claims that they were involved in "training armed provocateurs."

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius suggested Lukashenka was resorting to a Soviet-style "search for enemies."

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Lukashenka’s statement "does not correspond to reality, is provocative, and imposes damage on neighborly ties between Ukraine and Belarus."

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