Rice, NATO chief call for Milinkevich’s release

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday denounced the arrest of Belarus opposition leader Aleksander Milinkevich as a 'reprehensible act.'

Rice, attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria, said she was hoping the Belarus authorities would accept the 'will of the international community and comply with international principles.'

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also called for the immediate release of Milinkevich and said Minsk should 'refrain from such action in the future.'

Scheffer said the 'Euro-Atlantic partnership cannot accept this kind of thing in the heart of Europe.'

Police took Milinkevich into custody in the offices of a Minsk newspaper. The former presidential candidate had rejected a telephone 'invitation' to speak with police earlier in the day, the sources said.

Milinkevich had been wanted for questioning for his participation in unsanctioned anti-government demonstrations on Wednesday.

Also arrested on Thursday were opposition activists Sergei Kaliakin, Aleksander Bukhvostov, and Aleksander Shidlovskiy, all on similar charges connected with the Wednesday marches.

Belarus has seen repeated anti-government demonstrations in recent weeks, since authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko was re-elected in March. The polls have been widely condemned as being unfair.

European Union officials have also criticised the new crackdown on Belarusian opposition.

'We condemn any detentions that have taken place for the reason that (the detainees) have taken part in political demonstrations or any other political activity,' said Emma Udwin, spokeswoman for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, reports Monsters and Critics.

I.L.