Belarusian Opposition Leader Statkevich Detained On Way To Rally

MINSK -- Prominent Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich has been detained on his way to a rally meant to mock authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the former Soviet republic's Independence Day.

Statkevich was detained immediately after leaving his home in Minsk on July 3.

Statkevich and his supporters had called on Belarusians to demonstrate in downtown Minsk on July 3, which is officially celebrated as Independence Day and the day of liberation of the city from the Nazis by Soviet troops in 1944.

They called the rally the Act of Liberation and Solidarity and quoted what they claimed were words spoken publicly by Lukashenka in 1995 about Adolf HItler's Germany.

They quoted Lukashenka as saying, "The German order was formed [over] centuries, and in Adolf Hitler's time its formation had reached its highest point and [represented] what we understand as a presidential republic and the president’s role in it."

At least 20 activists and people who were giving interviews to RFE/RL were detained by men in civilian clothes on or on their way to Independence Avenue in Minsk.

Statkevich ran against Lukashenka in the 2010 presidential election.

He was arrested after attending a large demonstration protesting the election results, and spent five years in prison after being convicted of organizing riots at a trial criticized by human rights groups and Western governments.