Author`s name Pravda.Ru

Members of election monitoring group arrested in Belarus

Police broke up a meeting of an election monitoring group and arrested dozens of members in what the organization's leader said was an effort to prevent independent observation of next year's crucial presidential vote in Belarus.

Police entered the movie theater where the organization, Partnership, was meeting Saturday and arrested some 70 participants on charges of holding a gathering without approval from authorities, its leader Nikolai Astreiko said. He said the meeting was part of an effort to comply with a requirement that independent election observer groups register with the Justice Ministry.

The Interior Ministry said police entered the theater because of an alleged bomb threat, but declined to comment further. A Minsk court on Monday sentenced two Partnership members to 15 days in custody and ordered several others to pay substantial fines.

First elected in 1994, Lukashenko has extended his rule through a series of elections and referendums that Western observers and government called fraudulent. A year ago, he pushed through a referendum last November allowing him to run for president an indefinite number of times, and he has said he will seek a second term in next year's vote. Officials have said it will likely be held in July. A.M.