Belarus' police use tear gas to break up protest

June 13, 2011 - 8:44 AM

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Police in Belarus arrested 15 drivers after using tear gas to break up a protest that temporarily blocked a border crossing into Poland.

Several hundred people blocked the road Sunday evening to protest new rules severely limiting the amount of gasoline and Belarusian goods that can be taken out of the country. This trade is the main source of income for many living along the border with Poland.

Belarus is suffering a severe financial crisis and recently sharply devalued its currency. The authoritarian government imposed the export limits Saturday to prevent relatively cheap Belarusian goods from flooding out of the country.

Police said they used tear gas after the protesters refused to disperse.

Those arrested face up to 15 days in jail and future restrictions on their movements across the border, a spokesman for the state agency in charge of border security said.

Some of the 15 traders arrested cross the border as many as five or seven times per day, spokesman Alexander Tishchenko said.

Rights activist Valentin Stefanovich said the government responds to any protest with excessive force because it fears an explosion of social unrest because of the economic crisis.