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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 August 2005, 00:39 GMT 01:39 UK
Belarus Polish chief jailed again
Union of Poles, Grodno
Belarus police raided the ethnic Polish community's base last month
A leader of Belarus' ethnic Polish minority has been given a second 15-day prison term, in an apparent escalation of tension with the authorities.

Tadeusz Gawin, the former head of the Union of Poles, was accused of beating his cell mate - a claim he denies.

He was initially jailed for 15 days for arranging a meeting between a visiting Polish MP and ethnic Polish activists.

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed Poland's criticism of his country's treatment of ethnic Poles.

Mr Lukashenko has in the past accused the Polish government of stirring up unrest within Belarus' Polish community to unseat him.

The affair has damaged relations between Belarus and neighbouring Poland.

Diplomats expelled

Mr Gawin was originally sentenced on 2 August for setting up a meeting between ethnic Polish activists and the deputy speaker of the Polish parliament, Donald Tusk.

The Belarussian authorities said the gathering in the town of Grodno, near the border with Poland, amounted to an unsanctioned rally.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko looks to Russia as an ally against the West

Fellow activist Veslaw Kewlyak, deputy chairman of the Union of Poles, was last week also sentenced to 15 days in prison for meeting Mr Tusk.

The US has condemned the Belarusian government for raiding the Union of Poles headquarters in Grodno last month.

Meanwhile, Mr Lukashenko said Poland had only criticised Belarus to distract from its own domestic problems ahead of national elections in September.

The two countries have expelled each other's diplomats and gathered support from political allies.

Poland has the support of much of the West in its desire to see political change in Belarus, while Mr Lukashenko looks to Russia as an ally against outside interference. He has been in power since 1994.

About 400,000 ethnic Poles live in Belarus, in areas that were part of Poland until World War II.




SEE ALSO:
Belarus expels Polish diplomat
26 Jul 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Belarus
22 Jun 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Belarus
22 Jun 05 |  Country profiles


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