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Belarusian police club, detain protesters at threatened high school

July 18, 1997

MINSK, Belarus (AP) _ Belarusian police clubbed and detained angry parents who gathered Thursday to protest plans by the nation’s authoritarian leader to close their school.

Several dozen students and parents gathered at the school, one of the top academies in the country, to denounce President Alexander Lukashenko’s order to transfer management of the building to the president’s office. The order is part of a Lukashenko decree that allows him to take control of 22 buildings housing cultural organizations.

Opponents of the edict say it is an attempt by Lukashenko to curb organizations he dislikes.

Students and parents have been rallying at the school every day since Monday, when the order was made public, more than three months after it was signed.

But on Thursday, police blocked the building early in the morning. Protesters then gathered at the back of the building and marched around the block, without slogans or signs. Instead, they carried textbooks, maps and other learning aids.

With high school students watching, police and 15 unidentified men in civilian clothes cut into the march and began clubbing and snatching adult protesters and throwing them into squad cars. Lt. Col Vasily Klyuiko, who led the action, refused to say who the plainclothes men were.

Four people were detained and about a dozen beaten. Police also smashed several learning aids and tore up maps.

Klyuiko said the rally violated Lukashenko’s decree banning gatherings of more than 10 people. The president, an open admirer of the Soviet Union, has amassed nearly unlimited powers in Belarus.

Lukashenko’s order regarding the cultural organizations, signed April 1, does not say that the current occupants of the buildings will be evicted, but opponents said that was the likely outcome.

The school director, Vladimir Kolos, has said that officials in Lukashenko’s administration told him the building would be given to the Foreign Ministry for diplomatic corps’ needs.

The parents met at the school Thursday after the rally was dispersed, resolving to continue their protests and to appeal for help from abroad.

The school is one of the nation’s best. Its curriculum stresses democratic ideals, and many of its graduates have been awarded scholarships at European and American colleges.

Other buildings slated for transfer include the house of the Belarusian Writers’ Union. Aside from serving as a writers’ club, the house has been used by democratic opposition groups and is widely seen as a cradle of democracy in Belarus.

The writers say the building is owned by them. But Lukashenko’s order refers to all buildings slated for transfer as state-owned, and says the transfer is needed to ``raise the effectiveness of the use of state property.″

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