Underground actors seek last act for Belarus leader

Mon Dec 20, 2010 1:23pm EST
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By Matt Robinson

MINSK (Reuters) - Deep snow smothered the noise. Only fresh footprints leading to the tumbledown house in a suburb of the Belarussian capital Minsk betrayed life behind its boarded-up windows.

Inside, actors strutted and pounced barefoot on black floorboards while the tiny audience shared the makeshift stage for the Saturday night performance.

The converted house that is home to the Belarus Free Theater is a far cry from London's Soho, where its actors last performed.

With its close-to-the-edge repertoire and refusal to be censored by a government for which free expression is anathema, the theater company has been driven underground, and abroad, since its inception in 2005.

On Monday, the theatre's husband and wife founders, Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Koliada, were caught up in a violent police crackdown on dissenters following the re-election of Soviet-style strongman Alexander Lukashenko to a fourth term.

"We are at the KBG," Natalia said in an SMS text message to friends late on Sunday after she was arrested with other activists during a protest of some 10,000 in snow-bound Minsk.

Khalezin disappeared, and blog posts said he had been arrested after neighbors reported seeing security officers trying to break into the family home. It appeared he had gone to ground.

At least seven election candidates and hundreds of demonstrators were being held on Monday, including journalists and human rights activists.   Continued...