Police Suppress Protest In Belarus

Belarusian police on Friday drove demonstrators calling for President Alexander Lukashenko's resignation away from his office as the government criticized Kyrgyzstan's opposition for its seizure of power.

About 1,000 opposition demonstrators tried to gather at a central square near the presidential palace in Minsk but were pushed away by police. Officers in riot gear then chased demonstrators along the streets of the capital, beating some with truncheons.

Minsk police spokesman Oleg Slepchenko said later that 34 protesters were detained for taking part in an unsanctioned rally.

It took police about two hours to disperse the protests, who chanted "Down with Lukashenko!" and "Long Live Belarus!" A group of about 100 opposition activists regrouped and tried to gather near the presidential palace but police again quickly pushed them out.

Andrei Klimov, an opposition leader who organized the protests, said his goal was to help spark a revolution similar to those that have swept the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and, most recently, Kyrgyzstan, ousting unpopular leaders.

"Today's gathering must send a signal to the West, Russia and our own bureaucrats that Belarus is ready for a serious change," Klimov said. "Our aim is to start the Belarusian revolution and force the resignation of Lukashenko, the last dictator of Europe."

Lukashenko has ruled his nation of 10 million with an iron fist, stifling dissent, persecuting independent media and opposition parties and prolonging his power through elections international organizations say were marred by fraud.

In October, Lukashenko pushed through a referendum that will allow him to seek a third term in 2006 and run in subsequent elections.

Friday's protest was one of the biggest in the Belarusian capital in recent months.

"By using force, Lukashenko shows he's terribly scared," said Vyacheslav Sivchik, an opposition leader who was later detained by police for taking part in the demonstration.

The events in Kyrgyzstan where thousands of opposition protesters took over government buildings, driving President Askar Akayev from office, have turned up the heat on other autocratic rulers across the ex-Soviet space.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Friday harshly assailed the Kyrgyz opposition, warning that its action could destabilize the entire region. "The unconstitutional overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan could have fatal consequences for peace, stability and prosperity in the country, as well as in the Central Asian region as a whole," it said.