5 more years under Lukashenko too much, rival vows
Leader offers plan to build ranks of Belarus opposition
MINSK, Belarus -- An opposition leader declared yesterday that ''cracks in the fortress" of Belarus's hard-line government have emerged following unprecedented protests against President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed election victory.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Alexander Milinkevich outlined a strategy for building the opposition's ranks, warning that activists must spread the word that change is possible in this tightly controlled former Soviet republic of 10 million.
''We have made holes and cracks in the fortress. But if we keep on knocking against it with our heads, especially with few forces, we may lose. That is why we are taking a step back and beginning a siege of this fortress. The siege will be an information attack," he said.
''There will be a second storming, but we won't wait five years for it," he said.
He said the opposition will continue to press for a repeat election in which Lukashenko would be barred from running, and he reiterated plans for the next large protest on April 26.
Milinkevich appealed to the European Union to increase pressure for release of hundreds arrested, including another opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin. Many are being sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 days.
Kozulin's lawyer, Igor Rynkevich, said his client is under investigation for three charges that could carry a total of six years in prison, but no charges have yet been filed.
He said Kozulin's back and knees hurt from being beaten by police but ''he feels upbeat . . . like continuing his fight."
Milinkevich urged the EU ''to be tougher in demanding [Kozulin's] release, as well as the release of other political prisoners." He thanked Europe and the United States for their solidarity and their criticism of the election, and stressed the need for Western help in making Belarus more open and educating its students expelled for opposing the government.
He also criticized Russia, which expressed approval of the vote, calling its position ''absolutely unfair."
The March 19 election, in which officials say Lukashenko won a third term with 83 percent of the vote, set off days of demonstrations that drew thousands to a central square in Minsk. The protests there ended in a pre-dawn raid Friday after police broke up an opposition tent camp.
Milinkevich, who officially received 6.1 percent of the vote, called the election a fraud. The United States and the EU say it was deeply undemocratic and have vowed sanctions against Lukashenko and other officials over the balloting and the arrests that followed. Milinkevich said 1,200 people have been detained in connection with the election.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has been branded a dictator by the West.
Protesters returned to the streets Saturday, but riot police kept them from the square and forcefully dispersed a group marching to a jail where detained activists were being held, beating people with truncheons and taking dozens into custody. The clash occurred after 7,000 demonstrated in a park where Milinkevich announced the creation of a movement for ''the liberation of Belarus."
In the interview, Milinkevich called the protests ''a revolution of the spirit."