'Democracy' in Belarus

Conveniently this comes before an election set for 2006. It is already illegal to critcize the President who has so far remained in power for 11 years.

The parliament of Belarus has passed a law intended to stop mass protests - ahead of 2006 presidential elections.

The law will make it a criminal offence to "discredit" the Belarusian state both within Belarus and abroad - with a three year jail term for offenders.

The new law was passed overwhelmingly by the lower house of the Belarusian parliament on Friday.

Officials say it will help prevent protests similar to those that led to Ukraine's so-called Orange Revolution.

The new law makes it a criminal offence to deliberately make available to foreign states or organisations, false information on the political, economic or military situation in Belarus, or to discredit Belarus or its government.

Anyone found to have done so could face between six months and three years in prison.

Sanctions threat

The bill broadens the scope of existing legislation - it is already illegal in Belarus to criticise the President, Aleksandr Lukashenko, or any top officials.

The head of the Belarusian KGB, Stepan Sukhorenko, said the law was intended to stop a wave of protests like those in Ukraine last year during the Orange Revolution.

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