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Belarusian Opposition Leader Nyaklyaeu Detained Ahead Of Protest Rally

Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu has been detained upon arrival in Minsk after talks with Polish government officials in Warsaw.

Nyaklyaeu, who has been active in recent protests against a Belarusian law on “parasitism,” was planning to lead a Dzen Voly (Freedom Day) protest on March 25 along with Social Democratic leader Mikalay Statkevich.

Nyaklyaeu had been scheduled to appear in court on March 24 to face charges of participation in previous protests, but the trial was delayed when he failed to show.

Statkevich said he still planned to attend the Freedom Day protest, although some supporters have expressed fears he could also be detained before the event.

The annual rallies mark the anniversary of the short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic, which existed for less than a year in 1918.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the former Soviet republic in recent weeks to protest an unpopular labor law, in the largest antigovernment demonstrations in Belarus in years.

The protesters are unhappy about government plans to tax what it calls “social parasites” — unemployed people. Protests have continued despite a rare decision by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to postpone the measure until 2018.

Belarusian human rights group Vyasna (Spring) said about 130 activists who have protested against the tax had been jailed for up to 15 days and will be unable to participate in the March 25 rallies.

On March 19, the authorities detained at least three organizers of protests against the tax.

Viktar Marchyk, a politician with the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), was detained in the western city of Slonim, where several hundred protesters rallied.

Prior to a planned protest in Baranavichy, authorities detained the two main organizers: Mikalay Charnavus, a local BPF activist, and Ryhor Hryk, an independent union leader.

The United States and the European Union have sharply criticized Lukashenka’s government for its response to the protests.

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