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December 18, 2011

Police Break Up Vigil for Political Prisoners in Belarus

Belarusian police broke up a vigil in central Minsk Monday - the first anniversary of a bloody crackdown on the opposition after President Alexander Lukashenko's re-election.

Witnesses say police arrested about 30 demonstrators, including an elderly woman who shouted at authorities that they will "burn in hell."

Some of the protesters carried pictures of people still in jail one year after riot police used force against thousands of demonstrators protesting the election. The marchers say the vote was rife with fraud. At least two of those still behind bars were opposition presidential candidates.

The United States and European Union are demanding that Belarus immediately free political prisoners. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Sunday they are gravely concerned that new laws in Belarus will further restrict fundamental rights to free speech and assembly.

Clinton and Ashton say improved ties with Belarus depend on its commitment and respect for basic human rights, the rule of law and democracy. They say the United States and European Union are willing to help Belarus meet these obligations.

The United States has called President Lukashenko Europe's last dictator for suppressing human rights and free speech, silencing independent media, and rigging elections. Mr. Lukashenko has accused the West of meddling in Belarusian affairs.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.