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22 reporters held in Belarus this week--watchdog

Written by: Staff

PARIS, Mar 24 (Reuters) Police in Belarus have arrested 22 reporters since the beginning of this week, an international media watchdog said today in what it called an unprecedented crackdown on journalistic freedom.

''These arrests are intended to gag dissent and to sow a climate of terror in the country. The independent journalists should be immediately released,'' the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement.

RSF said 13 of the journalists were still in prison, mostly serving sentences of several days ''for alleged 'hooliganism', 'taking part in an unauthorised gathering' or for 'offering obscenities'''.

It said they were held in overcrowded and unheated cells and called for their immediate release.

Official results from elections held in Belarus on Sunday showed an overwhelming victory for President Alexander Lukashenko over opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, but the opposition complained of fraud and international observers said the vote was neither free nor fair.

Riot police today broke up street protests against the election after several days but the opposition says it will go ahead with a rally this weekend.

The watchdog said four members of the Belarus Association of Journalists and reporters for Canadian, Georgian and Russian news organisations were among those arrested.

Reuters DH VP0220

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