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EU Urges Belarus To Release All Activists Jailed On 'Freedom Day'

Belarusian Police Arrest Opposition Supporters
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WATCH: Belarusian Police Arrest Opposition Supporters

The European Union has called on Belarus to immediately release all the opposition activists who were arrested at the weekend as they attempted to hold an unsanctioned rally in the capital.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made the call on March 26, the day after Belarusian authorities detained more than 30 activists ahead of a banned march in Minsk.

By the evening, most of those arrested had been released, but former presidential candidates Mikalay Statkevich and Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu remained in detention, the Viasna human rights center reported.

In a statement, Mogherini's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the response of the Belarusian authorities was "disproportionate."

"Democratic principles and fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and of the media must be fully ensured in any democratic society," she also said.

"Steps taken by Belarus to respect universal fundamental freedoms, rule of law, and human rights will remain vital in shaping the European Union's future relationship with the country," Kocijancic added.

The planned rally in Minsk was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Belarus's 1918 proclamation of independence from Russia. The Belarusian People's Republic lasted until 1919, when it was effectively taken over by Soviet Russia.

Known as Freedom Day, the anniversary is traditionally a day for opponents of the authoritarian government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to stage protests.

The Belarusian opposition accuses Lukashenka, who has been in office since 1994, of attempting to erase Belarusian identity and of "Russifying" the former Soviet republic.

During his two decades in power, Lukashenka has systemically quashed opposition parties, independent media, and civil society groups. Outbursts of political protests have been met with violence.

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