Latvia calls for release of Belarus protesters

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Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics on March 25 urged restraint from the government of Belarus after hundreds of people were reportedly detained during 'Freedom protests' in neighboring Belarus.

Writing on Twitter, Rinkevics said Belarus should "immediately release all protesters who are detained by the police."

While in many other parts of Europe parades took place in support of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome which paved the way to the creation of the European Union, Belarusians were expressing their own desires for freedom and democracy after laboring under the authoritarian regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka for two decades, with the imposition of a punitive new tax the nominal reason for the protests.

According to LSM's Latvian language service, Belarusian authorities have detained 400 people, including journalists.

However, according to freelance journalist Sergei Kuznetsov, the figure might be considerably higher with around 630 people reportedly arrested in Minsk alone.

Many arrests appear to have taken place before planned protests even started as the government cracked down on dissent.

Independent Belarusian media outlet Belsat carried several disturbing reports of police beating and dragging away protesters.

The harsh actions of Lukashenka seem likely to halt recent efforts by European countries - including Latvia - to warm relations with Minsk.

As recently as January 26, Rinkevics told the Saeima: "We see opportunities for building constructive relations with our neighbour Belarus, as well as Armenia, and Azerbaijan – with relations tailored to the interests and aspirations defined by these countries and the European Union principles."

But the crackdown appears to show that Lukashenka is uninterested in European Union principles, and unlikely ever to change the brutal methods that have kept him in power so long.

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