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Rights Group: Some Belarusian Opposition Candidates May Face Jail Terms

Relatives and supporters of people detained in opposition protests following Sunday's presidential elections in Belarus hold a vigil outside a prison in the capital, Minsk, 21 Dec 2010

A human rights group says Belarus has launched criminal probes against at least 18 leading opposition figures over their alleged involvement in post-election riots.

The organization Vesna said Wednesday that those accused -- including seven of the nine candidates who ran against the country's authoritarian leader -- face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Overall, Belarusian authorities jailed more than 600 people in the wake of Sunday's protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

In the election, Mr. Lukashenko won a fourth consecutive term, capturing 80 percent of the vote. No other candidate won more than three percent.

More than 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets after polls closed to protest what they said was a fraudulent election. European observers and U.S. officials also have strongly criticized the election process.

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