Fifteen Belarusian anti-Lukashenko activists go on hunger strike
Minsk - Fifteen opponents of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko went on hunger strike on Monday, in a rare challenge to the country's authoritarian regime.
The strike would continue until three Belarusian businessmen arrested in February are released or face formal charges, said Nikolai Statkevich, leader of an anti-government political party.
The three jailed businessmen, Nikolai Avtukhovich, Yury Leonov, and Vladimir Osipenko, have been in state custody since February 8 on suspicion of "causing damage to state officials," according to a Bel- 1 state television report.
The Lukashenko regime commonly cites the charge against Belarusians criticising the government and its policies openly. No trial date has been set.
Avtukhovich on Monday completed the 20th day of a hunger strike against the detention. His health is "deteriorating," Statkevich said.
Aleksander Kozulin, an opposition leader jailed for three years for heading up anti-Lukashenko demonstrations, headed the list of activists beginning hunger strikes on Monday in support of Avtukhovich and the other two businessmen.
Five former political prisoners were among another fourteen people joining Kozulin in the refusal to eat, said Mikhail Marinich, one of the strikers.
"Each will stay on hunger strike as long as he can," Marinich said.
Other hunger strike participants included leaders of the Belarusian youth organizations Molodoi Front (Young Front), a Czech Republic-registered NGO opposing Lukashenko.
Open opposition to Lukashenko's authority in Belarus is rare.
The former collective farm boss uses Soviet-style tactics, including a docile state-run media, a powerful secret police, and systematic repression of opposition groups, to maintain tight control in the country. (dpa)