Belarusian opposition leader sentenced for carrying EU flag

MinskMinsk - A leader of Belarus' political opposition was sentenced on Friday to 10 days imprisonment jail for displaying a European Union flag in public.

Mikola Statkevich, leader of Belarus Social Democrat party and an opponent of Belrus' authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko, had been on trial for displaying the flag during an unsanctioned May 1st demonstration.

Some 20 supporters of Belarus' eventual membership in the EU gathered outside the National Library in Minsk, and unfurled banners and flags.

Police arrested and removed to a city jail participants in the unsanctioned demonstration in less than a half hour.

Thousands of other Minsk marchers took to the streets Thursday with pro-government and other political banners, as the former Soviet republic marked International Workers' Day.

Statkevich on Friday received the sentence handed down by Minsk judge silently. He had been charged with displaying illegal media, and participating in an unsanctioned demonstration.

At the outset of the proceedings, Statkevich accused the court of acting illegitimately as evidence was heard and findings delivered in Russian, not Belarusian.

Belarusian law stipulates the Belarusian language must be used by government officials, but the rule is generally ignored, as Russian is overwhelmingly the dominant language in the country.

Belarus' embattled opposition has attempted to use Lukashenko's own inability to speak Belarusian or force his government to do so, to drive a wedge between the former Soviet collective boss, and the general public.

Lukashenko controls Belarus with the assistance of a state-controlled media, and a secret police. (dpa)

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