Belarus opposition party sacks leader ahead of vote

The Social Democrats decided to replace Kozulin, a former presidential candidate who is serving a 5 1/2 year prison sentence for organising protests against President Alexander Lukashenko's 2006 reelection.

Belarus opposition party sacks leader ahead of vote
A Belarussian opposition party has sacked its jailed leader, seen in the West as the country's most prominent political prisoner, ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

The Social Democrats decided on Sunday to replace Alexander Kozulin, a former presidential candidate who is serving a 5 1/2 year prison sentence for organising protests against President Alexander Lukashenko's 2006 reelection, by Anatoly Lenkovich, a former deputy head.

Kozulin, who had been involved in a personal dispute with Lenkovich, was appointed the party's honorary chairman, a ceremonial position.

Kozulin last year refused an offer by Lukashenko to go free on condition he leaves Belarus, saying that amounted to exile. Western countries demand his release as a condition for resuming dialogue with Minsk, accused of violating basic rights.

His supporters argued that the move to replace Kozulin would play into the hands of the government.

"This is a terrible political mistake and it goes against common sense," senior party official Igor Rynkevich told the party conference on Sunday. "Only the authorities will benefit from depriving the party of Kozulin."

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, is accused in the West of muzzling the media, jailing opponents and breaking up protests.

Parties are gearing up for elections on Sept. 28, which Lukashenko has said will be free and fair. He said in May he hoped some opposition members would win seats, if only to dampen criticism from the European Union and the United States.

Some EU members have signalled that a fair election could help improve relations with Belarus, but Kozulin's release remains a key stumbling block.

Reuters
Last Mod: 05 Ağustos 2008, 11:56
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