Updated at 23:52,23-01-2020

Belarus opens trials of dissidents over protests


Belarus has started putting opposition activists on trial over mass protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

First into the dock on Thursday was Vasily Parfenkov, who had campaigned for the opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev in the December election.

Mr Parfenkov is accused of taking part in mass disorder. He could face eight years in jail if found guilty.

Five ex-candidates are among 42 people charged over the 19 December unrest.

Thousands of opposition activists gathered in central Minsk as the polls closed that day. They were later violently dispersed by riot police.

Mr Parfenkov told the judge that he attended the mass protest but did not smash any windows in the government building, the Belapan news agency reported from Minsk.

The prosecution alleges that he and others caused damage to the building amounting to $4,670 (3,440 euros, £2,900).

Independent observers said election procedures were flawed.

Pressure on Lukashenko

The US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Belarus over the arrests of opposition figures.

Mr Lukashenko and more than 150 other officials are barred from visiting the 27 EU countries, and a list of officials with assets frozen by the EU has been extended.

The authorities' crackdown involved numerous searches of activists' and journalists' homes, where computers and other items were seized.

The EU had originally barred Mr Lukashenko from visiting in 2006, after the last presidential election, but suspended the ban two years later in an attempt to encourage reforms.

Mr Lukashenko has been in power in the ex-Soviet republic since 1994, using the security forces and censorship to stifle dissent.