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Belarus Independence Day Protesters Sentenced After 400 Arrests

Belarusian protesters received sentences of as much as 15 days in jail today after police arrested almost 400 people yesterday during demonstrations on the country’s Independence Day, human rights groups said.

Hearings for those arrested began today. Jauhen Asieuski, a rights campaigner for the Minsk-based Human Rights Center, or Viasna, said he had information about 21 people tried today at the city’s Frunzenski District Court.

“It looks like most of them have been sentenced today and most received sentences of seven to 15 days in prison,” he said.

Riot police in Minsk used tear gas to disperse protesters as President Aleksandr Lukashenko, 56, faces growing unrest over his handling of the country’s economic crisis. Belarus was forced to devalue its currency by 36 percent in May. It is now seeking loans from Russia and the International Monetary Fund as it tries to close a current-account gap that was equal to 16 percent of gross domestic product last year.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994, yesterday condemned what he described as a foreign plot to topple him.

“Shameless scenarios of a colored revolution written in the capitals of certain countries are foisted off on Belarus,” Lukashenko said during his speech at the Independence Day military parade in Minsk.

Police detained 210 people in Minsk, according to Viasna. About 120 were arrested in Grodno, a city in western Belarus near the Polish border, and dozens were held in Gomel and Mogilev, according to the Belapan news service.

Alexander Lastovsky, a spokesman for the Minsk city police, declined to comment on the number of arrests.

Olga, 25, wearing a black leather jacket, with her long brown hair slightly unkempt after a night in jail, stood in tears in front of Judge Liudmila Lappo’s court, waiting for her case to be heard. A journalist at a state-owned newspaper in Minsk, Olga declined to give her full name for fear of retribution. She said she took part in the protest at 7 p.m. near the main train station and was accused of hooliganism.

About 20 minutes later, Olga, smiling through her tears, bustled out of the courtroom and hugged her sister. She received a fine of 875,000 rubles ($177), a mild sentence considering other accused were sent to prison.

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