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Protesters dispersed in Belarus

MINSK, Belarus -- About 1,000 prodemocracy protesters tried to gather yesterday outside the presidential palace, claiming to be emulating the uprising in another former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan, but they were beaten back by police in riot gear.

Several dozen protesters were arrested as police broke up the crowd in October Square, opposite the office and palace of President Alexander Lukashenko.

It took the truncheon-wielding police about two hours to disperse the protesters, who chanted, ''Down with Lukashenko!" and ''Long live Belarus!" About 100 opposition activists regrouped, only to be pushed away a second time.

Protest organizer Andrei Klimov said the demonstration was intended to help provoke a revolution similar to those that have swept Georgia, Ukraine, and most recently, Kyrgyzstan, ousting unpopular governments.

''Today's gathering must send a signal to the West, Russia, and our own bureaucrats that Belarus is ready for a serious change," Klimov said. ''Our aim is to . . . force the resignation of Lukashenko, the last dictator of Europe."

The gathering, which government officials said was illegal, also was organized to mark the anniversary of the founding in 1918 of the Belarusian People's Republic, which Bolshevik troops crushed after a little more than a year.

Lukashenko has ruled his nation of 10 million people with an iron fist, stifling dissent and persecuting independent media and opposition parties, opponents say. He has prolonged his power through elections that international organizations have said were marred by fraud.

Material from Reuters was included in this report.

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