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Belarus prosecutor wants jail for opposition leader

By Andrei Makhovsky


MINSK- A prosecutor in Belarus demanded six years in jail on Thursday for an activist who stood against President Alexander Lukashenko in March elections and helped stage protests against his landslide victory.


Alexander Kozulin was

one of two opposition candidates who ran against Lukashenko — accused in the West of rigging the election and crushing fundamental rights.


The former university rector, charged with hooliganism and incitement to mass disorder, was a key figure in protests up to 10,000-strong after Lukashenko was declared the winner with 83 percent of the vote.


As the verdict was about to be handed down, Kozulin was brought into the court room in handcuffs to rhythmic applause and shouts of “Freedom! Freedom1” from supporters.


“This is no court, this is a farce, a kangaroo court!” he said.


Turning to the presiding judge in the Minsk district court, he cried: “You are no judge, you are a hangman!”


The judge cleared the court of spectators and reporters, leaving inside only lawyers and a handful of relatives.


Prosecutor Alexei Bortnik had earlier demanded the maximum six years. “I see no circumstances to call for an easier sentence,” he told the court. “Kozulin can only be reformed by isolating him from society.”


Kozulin launched stinging attacks on the president during a campaign marked by the detention of top opposition figures. He came last place in a field of four with 2 percent of the vote.



LAWYERS SEEK ACQUITTAL


Lawyers defending Kozulin demanded his acquittal.


“From the very outset, this case has been clearly political,” lawyer Igor Rynkevich told the court.


“The arrest of a candidate just after a presidential election can set a dangerous precedent of persecuting citizens for political reasons. This case has been fabricated. It amounts to no more than personal revenge against a political opponent.”


Kozulin was arrested nearly a week after the election after urging protesters in unprecedented rallies in tightly-controlled Belarus to march on a prison outside the city centre where many of their comrades were being held.


Police broke up the march and Kozulin was detained, as were 600 protesters, most of whom were later sentenced to up to 15 days in jail for public order offences.


His actions put him at odds with the main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, who finished second with six percent according to the official tally.


But Milinkevich, received warmly in European capitals after the poll, attended the opening of the trial to show his support.


The United States and European Union, both critical of Lukashenko during 12 years in office, denounced the election as rigged and barred entry to Lukashenko and other officials.


But the foreign minister of Finland, current EU president, acknowledged this week that attempts to try to isolate Lukashenko had proved ineffective and hoped supporting the democratic opposition would produce change. — Reuter 

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