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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2007, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Belarussian rally ends in clashes
Police detain protesters in Minsk
Several protesters were detained
Opposition protesters in Belarus have clashed with police in the capital Minsk where thousands of people rallied against President Alexander Lukashenko.

No injuries were reported in the clashes which came as activists marked the anniversary of the creation in 1918 of a short-lived Belarussian republic.

Scuffles began as protesters tried to push through police cordons and several arrests were made, witnesses say.

Meanwhile, the EU made a fresh appeal for democratic reform in Belarus.

President Lukashenko has been accused by the opposition and foreign election monitors of persecuting his opponents and rigging elections.

However, he enjoys also widespread support in this former Soviet republic of nearly 10 million people which has resisted a sudden transition to market economics like its neighbours.

'Not alone'

Between 10,000 and 15,000 people are believed to have taken part in Sunday's rally which was addressed by opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
Washington calls Belarus's leader "Europe's last dictator"

"We should understand that we are not alone - the democratic world and Europe stand together with us," he said.

Demonstrators chanted "long live Belarus" and waved the red and white flags of the 1918 republic, banned by the government which uses the Soviet-era national flag.

Mr Milinkevich took 6% of the vote to 80.3% for Mr Lukashenko in the presidential election last March, which was heavily criticised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for failing to meet democratic standards.

Speaking in Berlin on Sunday to mark the EU's 50th anniversary, German Chancellor Angela Merkel singled out Belarus as a nation in Europe that still suffered from oppression and she said Europe was on the side of its people.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, said the EU was ready to form what he called a full partnership with Belarus and increase aid to the former Soviet republic if it adopted democratic reforms.




SEE ALSO
Belarus condemned over eviction
30 Jan 07 |  Europe
Profile: Alexander Lukashenko
09 Jan 07 |  Europe
Country profile: Belarus
14 Jan 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Belarus
09 Jan 07 |  Country profiles

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