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April 28, 2006
Lukashenko Jails His Opposition ... Again

The man known as Europe's last dictator lived up to his reputation once again in suppressing dissent in the former Soviet satellite Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko threw opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich in prison for a fortnight after Milinkevich attended an "unsanctioned" protest:

Alexander Milinkevich, the pro-western leader of Belarus's opposition, was yesterday jailed for 15 days for attending an unsanctioned protest as President Alexander Lukashenko tried to keep a lid on dissent in his Soviet-style regime.

Mr Milinkevich, who won 6% of the votes in March's discredited presidential election in which Mr Lukashenko claimed 83% and a third term, was arrested by riot police and taken to court. He was charged with the "administrative offence" of attending a 7,000-strong unsanctioned protest on Wednesday to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The nuclear accident badly contaminated Belarus, yet the Lukashenko regime has played down its impact and urged people to farm land still regarded by some experts as contaminated.

Apparently Lukashenko only allows people to protest in approved ways, which defeats the entire notion of protest at all. The Belarussian leader has come under diplomatic fire for weeks after running a rigged election in which Lukashenko took 83% of the vote. Europe and the US refuse to issue travel visas to Lukashenko and his staff, leading to the last-minute rerouting of a plane carrying the Belarussian Prime Minister from a trip to Cuba a week ago.

The Belarussian government has made no secret of its affiliation with Vladimir Putin, and the latter has made no secret of his desire to use Belarus as a buffer between NATO and Russian soil. Putin has seen many of his former buffers disappear, the victim of populist uprisings against the corrupt strongment that Moscow props up. Inevitably, this results in hostility towards Russia on behalf of the people oppressed by its erstwhile allies.

Putin and Lukashenko may win the short game, but they are losing the long war against tyranny and autocracy. Tyrants who feel the need to hold mock elections are already one foot into forced exile. When the Belarussians decide that they have had enough, Lukashenko had better already have his Moscow dacha selected and purchased outright. With this flimsy excuse for a detention, that day may come even quicker than Lukashenko imagines.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 28, 2006 6:37 AM

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