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EU Condemns Belarus Arrests

The European Union has condemned the arrests of 27 demonstrators Thursday in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner characterized the detentions as the latest in a long line of politically motivated arrests.

Those arrested include liberal United Civil Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka and head of the Perspektiva business group, Anatol Shumchanka. Authorities sentenced some of those detained to at least 15 days in prison and ordered them to pay a fine.

Thursday's arrests took place as about 2,000 entrepreneurs and opposition activists protested a presidential decree limiting the hiring power of small businesses. The Belarusian opposition Web site Charter97 says President Alexander Lukashenko's order effectively deprives many of the protesters of employment.

Belarusian Interior Ministry officials called for tough punishment, saying the protesters had beaten police officers.

The United States and the European Union accuse Mr. Lukashenko of jailing his opponents and members of independent news organizations. Western governments also accuse the Belarusian leader of vote-rigging in his 2006 reelection to a third term.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.