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Belarus Courts Jail, Fine 'Silent' Protesters


A participant in a flash mob is led into a Minsk court by a policeman
Courts in Minsk and other cities have been passing sentences on some of the more than 150 people detained during demonstrations on June 29.
In Minsk five activists were given jail terms between 10 and 15 days on charges of petty hooliganism. In the town of Salihorsk, four activists -- including a father and his two sons -- were given jail terms of seven to 15 days. About a dozen other activists were handed stiff fines. Additional trials are scheduled for next week.
Speaking in the Hungarian parliament building in Budapest on June 30, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said established democracies must "share their experience with the newly arrived democracies of the Middle East and North Africa, and to show solidarity with those in the streets in Belarus, in Libya, and around the world."
Clinton then traveled on to Vilnius, Lithuania, for a gathering of the Community of Democracies. Last week U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner told journalists Clinton would urge European countries to increase the pressure on the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in her meetings in Vilnius.

The Internet-driven demonstration featured no speeches or slogans; instead, some 1,000 demonstrators walked slowly through city streets and signaled their discontent by clapping their hands as sympathizers in passing cars honked their horns.

Police were out in force in response, cordoning off streets, blocking the marchers, and hustling dozens into awaiting vans. Similar, smaller protests were held in cities across the country, while authorities everywhere scrambled to disperse them.

It was the fifth straight week of demonstrations, and protest organizers have called for similar peaceful demonstrations against the authoritarian government of Lukashenka for every Wednesday evening. A major rally is also expected on July 3, Belarusian Independence Day. Some of those arrested at an earlier demonstration in the southeastern city of Homel are expected to face trial today.

WATCH -- Police detained more than 150 people on June 29 after forcibly breaking up a protest against the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka:
Police Break Up Minsk Protest
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The events were the latest development in a harsh government crackdown on the political opposition that began with the December 2010 presidential election that has been widely denounced as unfair and rigged. Many of the candidates who opposed Lukashenka's reelection were subsequently arrested and sentenced to stiff prison terms.

The political tensions have been exacerbated by a growing economic crisis that has seen Belarus's currency repeatedly devalued as ordinary citizens have rushed to hoard hard currency and basic consumer goods.

RFE/RL correspondent James Kirchick was at the June 29 demonstration in Minsk. He says the protesters largely came from the politically active segment of society. Ordinary Belarusians, he says, have not joined the movement, despite the worsening economic crisis.

"There were maybe less than 1,000 people at this," Kirchick says. "There were lots of people walking down the street looking at them and not supporting them. Which is not to downplay that there was support -- there were lots of people honking their car horns and whatnot. But this went on for about half an hour and then it was done and people went about their daily lives."

Neighboring Russia on June 29 cut electricity supplies to Belarus, forcing Minsk to pay $43 million in arrears for power provided in March, April, and May. A spokesman for Russia's Inter RAO electricity exporter told journalists supplies would resume sometime today.

Also on June 29, Russia's NTV television network, which is owned by state-controlled natural-gas giant Gazprom, aired a long documentary dramatizing the scope of the recent protests and mocking Lukashenka.

"It isn't opposition activists coming out onto the streets of Minsk, but ordinary citizens," the documentary says. "They aren't shouting slogans or making political demands. People are protesting because the people of Belarus have nothing left to live on."

written by Robert Coalson in Prague, with contributions from RFE/RL's Belarus Service and agency reporting
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